Putting up statues part of BSP’s Dalit assertion

April 19th, 2008 - 11:14 am ICT by admin  

A file-photo of Bahujan Samaj Party
(News Analysis)
By Darshan Desai
New Delhi, April 19 (IANS) Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Mayawati’s act earlier this week of unveiling her own larger than life statue next to that of B.R. Ambedkar, an icon of Dalit pride, has a larger significance in Dalit politics. To many, the act on the part of the chief minister and leader of the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) smacked of megalomania.

But for the BSP, a party that fights for the rights of Dalits, setting up memorials is part of a well-crafted political strategy. And the party believes the strategy has stood the test of time.

On the occasion of the 117th birth anniversary of Ambedkar, the architect of the Indian constitution, Mayawati unveiled her own statue with that of Kanshi Ram, her mentor and founder of the BSP, as well as Ambedkar’s.

“It was Kanshi Ram’s strategy that Dalits should make their presence felt among their caste exploiters to nurture their own self-esteem,” explained Badri Narayan, director of the Dalit Resource Centre at the prestigious Allahabad-based Gobind Ballabh Pant Institute of Social Sciences.

“Statues came handy by way of making your presence felt throughout the state where you were emerging as a serious contender for power.”

Party insiders say that Mayawati does not mind bleeding her coffers to set up one memorial after another because she sees in this a long-term strategy that can be translated into both electoral and political benefits.

Mayawati has installed three statues of herself in Lucknow and one in New Delhi. Uttar Pradesh, on the other hand, is dotted with countless Ambedkar statues put up at the village and town squares.

BSP legislators have built the statues with funds allocated to them for the development of their constituencies.

“Symbols, slogans and statues have always been strategic tools for the BSP,” Sudha Pai, professor at Centre for Political Studies at Jawaharlal Nehru University and author of a book titled ‘Dalit Assertion and Unfinished Democratic Revolution’, told IANS.

Symbolic gestures, Pai clarified, have become more important than before, when Mayawati is trying to bridge the political gulf between Dalits and Brahmins.

The new ’sarvajan’ (all inclusive) politics practised by Mayawati, which catapulted her to power in Uttar Pradesh in 2007, is apparently making Dalits increasingly unhappy, explained Pai.

And it is perhaps for this reason, says the political scientist, that Mayawati is trying to reassure her party’s Dalit constituency by erecting huge statues of herself and Kanshi Ram - the two prime movers of BSP politics.

According to Narayan, the BSP’s “politics of memorials” works at four levels.

“The first is the local heroes of yore at the village level. Their contribution to the Dalit cause is highlighted by putting up their statues and distributing printed material on a massive scale,” says Narayan.

At another level, the legacy of well-known poets and warriors from the community is publicised.

“The next level is Ambedkar. The last is Kanshi Ram and Mayawati,” he elaborates.

The construction of statues peaks with Ambedkar, whose gigantic frame stands at the main Lucknow square of Hazratganj, dwarfing Mahatma Gandhi’s statue, right next to it. The latest to join the fray of leaders engraved in stone are Kanshi Ram and Mayawati.

The BSP has built up an entire movement around its culture of statues, the propagation of myths through books as well as local festivals.

(Darshan Desai can be contacted at darshan207@gmail.com)

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