Saturday, May 19, 2007

Lessons from Uttar Pradesh

Last week, the voters of Uttar Pradesh (UP) finally got rid of the chaos of Hindutva and dynasty based politics. The verdict is in, and the national parties such as Bharatiya Janta Party (BJP) and the Congress Party have been shown the door. Neither the slogan of "Hindu nationalism" of BJP, nor the Congress Party's "secularism" promoted by none other than the heir of the Congress party — Rahul Gandhi — could cut any ice with the highly discerning voters of Uttar Pradesh.

Former schoolteacher Mayawati's Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) won 206 constituencies out of 402 total seats in the state assembly. Although she has a narrow majority, she has achieved what Bhim Rao Ambedkar and her mentor Kanshi Ram could not in their lifetimes. She has made millions of Dalits who have been marginalized and powerless for decades, in Uttar Pradesh (and throughout India) hopeful for better days ahead.

Furthermore, she has brought an end to the politics of manipulation and maneuverings, fulfilling the electorates' desire for political stability. No party in UP had been able to secure a majority since BJP won 221 seats in the 1991 Assembly polls when the notion of "Hindu nationalism" was at its peak.

Maywati has crumbled established citadels and has upset all electoral calculations. Her victory has surprised both her rivals and exit-pollsters. She has emerged triumphant in the face of innumerable odds. She did not have a poster boy like the Congress did. Nor did she have hoards of actors and actresses — Amitabh Bachhan, Jaya Bachhan, Jaya Prada — campaigning for her party like Mulayam Singh's Samajwadi Party (SP) did. Out of many things, the recent election in UP also has proved that the likes of Amitabh Bachchan cannot sell everything.

Maywati has defied the notion that media can turn around elections. While other parties used actors, actresses, and business tycoons for campaigning, Maywati focused on the basics of politics —- go to people and seek their support. She asked her cadres to visit every village and every house to mobilize their support.

Mayawati has proven that her experience as a former teacher gives her an understanding of not only child psychology, but also psychology of the voters and the strategy that needs to be pursued to secure power. She realized very early on in her political career what Bhim Rao Ambedkar and her mentor Kanshi Ram failed to understand: without cohabitation with the upper caste Brahmins and Thakurs and forging alliance with Muslims, Dalits' quest for power would remain an unachievable goal. Thus, Mayawati did everything under the sun to woo previously adversarial social groups. She carried out a series of Bhaichara (caste amity) campaigns.

When it comes to how she changed her political course, her slogans say it all. She made a complete U-turn from "tilak, taraju aur talwar, maro unko jhoote char" (beat up Brahmins, Vaishyas and Kshatriyas) to "Haathi nahin Ganesh hain, Brahma Vishnu Mahesh hain" (it is not elephant but Lord Ganesh, symbolizing all gods and communities). She changed her party's image from an upper caste bashing party to an upper caste accommodating party. To ensure upper castes' loyalty towards BSP, of the total of 139 upper caste candidates, BSP fielded 86 Brahmins. In addition to the necessity of Brahmins' vote, Mayawati knew it very well that the road to power could not be constructed without Muslim votes. She fielded as many as 61 Muslim candidates in the polls.

Mayawati, thus, exhibited political ingenuity and tore apart BJP's grip on upper caste voters and SP's grip on Muslim voters. Clearly, the politics of inclusion have paid off for Mayawati.

Mayawati outsmarted the BJP, Congress, Samajwadi Party, and other regional political parties through the process of social engineering. The spectacular victory of Mayawati's BSP has potential lessons for both the major political and various ethnic groups that have been pushing for their empowerment in Nepal. Learn from the mistakes of others, or end up becoming a loser in future.

The Nepali Congress (NC) cannot achieve anything without reinventing itself. Although India's Congress party used charming prince Rahul Gandhi to lure voters, he had nothing new to offer. Like India's Congress Party, Nepali Congress (NC) has nothing new to offer. Rather than cozying itself with the political left, it should get nearer to the ethnic groups that believe in inclusive democracy.

Although the NC preaches democracy and secularism, it is heavily dominated by the Koirala clan. This clan calls itself democratic and secular, but still promotes irrational practices. The likes of Sujata Koirala have gained prominence due to their relationship with Girija Prasad Koirala but lack leadership qualities and will end up meeting the fate of Ajit Singh, the son of former Prime Minister Chaudhary Charan Singh.

As a matter of fact, she might not even have the stature that Ajit Singh has in Indian politics. Unlike Ajit Singh, who does have backings of Jat community, Sujata is on her own. Sujata with her husband being a Christian and daughter married to a Muslim will not have any backing of the Brahmin community under which she falls by birth.

Thus, the days of the likes of Sujata Koirala in Nepali politics are numbered. With the demise of Girija Prasad Koirala, they too will become a history. The leaders of NC that have risen to prominence through hard work will soon have their heyday. For now, they should indulge themselves in introspection and work towards reinventing the party.

Slogans and rhetoric alone cannot win elections. Neither the campaign revolving around the idea of "India Shining," helped the BJP,

nor has UP mein dam hai kyon ki zulm yahan kam hai (UP has future because crime rate is low here) worked for Mulayam Singh's Samajwadi party. The voters are not foolish, they will no longer be mesmerized by slogans and rhetoric alone. They will now take a calculated look at the political leadership before casting their votes. So, the political left should shed its rhetorical politics and shy away from class-based politics. At the end of the day, like in UP, the party that is inclusive will have better prospects and will enjoy the support of the majority.

The former royalist party that functions like an elite's club will have no political future. The virtual wipe-out of Viswanath Pratap Singh, the descendent of former Maharaja of one of the many princely states in India, has clearly exhibited that money cannot buy votes; you will have to earn it. So, the parties like Rastriya Prajatantra Paty (RPP) and Rastriya Jansakti Party (RJP) have arduous road ahead. Do it right or perish.

Madhesi People's Rights Forum (MPRF) and NFIN should do what Mayawati did in UP. Instead of alienating the so-called upper castes Pahadis, get them onboard. It would definitely not hurt, it would help. The propagation of sectarian hatred will aid no one in the long run. The BJP strategy to raise the communal temperature did not augur well as planned by BJP in UP. Upper caste Hindus refused to swallow the bait this time around and rather sided with BSP.

The recent uprising in terai has clearly demonstrated that there exists a political space for a genuine political force to grow. There are millions of Pahadis residing in Madhes that do not have problem with Upendra Yadav becoming their democratically elected prime minister. So, Upendra Yadav, who also happens to be a former teacher like Mayawati, has a good prospect as an emerging leader that can address woes of ethnic communities that have been bypassed thus far and at the same time lead the nation. All he needs to do is ensure that the ongoing ethnic movement does not become narrowly focused and communal. The communal politics has no future. Learn it easy way just by seeing Mayawati's experience in UP. For Mayawati it took years to figure that out.

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