Saturday, May 12, 2007

Chief Minister Mayawati

The Uttar Pradesh (UP) elections have produced a clear and unambiguous verdict for the first time in many, many years. As a result, Bahujan Samaj Party is in an enviable position of not having to seek others' support, and Ms. Mayawati, its leader, now has a chance to run that state for a full five-year term. The Hindu gets it right when it says:

The feisty BSP supremo achieved for her party what Bhim Rao Ambedkar could only dream of and what her mentor Kanshi Ram envisioned but could not realise in his own life time.

Mayawati's amazing achievement became possible because she pushed her party -- remember, it's a party that started its life as a vehicle to promote the interests of Dalits -- to convert itself into an umbrella that can accommodate many other groups and interests. [This is a task that the bigger and more 'national' Congress has failed to achieve in UP or, for that matter, in many other parts of India.] Here's the Hindu:

... the BSP scored in an attempt to bridge the social divide: the party's emphasis through its campaign was on sarvajan samaj. Established citadels crumbled as Mayawati's elephant marched across the State, penetrating social blocks previously outside its reach.


Ms. Mayawati's party worked silently and assiduously on the ground, wooing previously adversarial social groups through a series of bhaichara (caste amity) campaigns. The breakthrough came with the success of its Brahmin jodo abhiyan (`take the Brahmins along' project). To get a sense of this socio-political achievement, consider the traditional hostility between Brahmins and the BSP. If Brahmins held the BSP in contempt, the latter ceaselessly targeted `manuwadis,' reserving its choicest epithets for them. ... That sections of the same forward castes have now shown a willingness to cohabit with the BSP is an irony too large to miss. However, it was not only Brahmins that the BSP co-opted as it went about enlarging its base. The Bahujan party reached out to all sections through a network of committed zonal commanders, each on a mission to integrate one social group or another. Preliminary findings suggest that Ms. Mayawati's party secured a large share of OBC votes besides the votes of Muslims.

The broad support for Mayawati-- cutting across caste and religious lines, which our media keep telling us are unbreachable -- is possibly the single most heartening message in these elections. There will be many occasions to examine whether Mayawati deserves this kind of broad support, or if this coming together of many disparate groups and interests can be sustained across space and time. But, for the moment, her victory calls for a huge celebration.

There are other things to celebrate too, and the Hindu's editorial does a good job of highlighting them:

[The Bharatiya Janata Party's strategists] attempted to raise the communal temperature through recourse to inflammatory campaign material, including the poisonous compact disc currently under the scanner of the Election Commission of India. The BJP leaders made sectarian speeches, focussing on issues — terrorism, Mohammad Afzal's hanging, the Sachar committee report, and so forth — that they thought would polarise votes on communal lines. The strategy backfired. Hindus and Muslims alike refused to swallow the bait.

... A final word on the Election Commission of India's sterling contribution to the democratic process. Its strategic planning, hard work, impartiality, far-sightedness, and no-nonsense supervision ensured that not one life was lost to violence and not one polling booth was seized by toughs. For the people of Uttar Pradesh, the ECI is as much a hero as their Chief Minister-in-waiting.