Forget Rahul, Mamata – Mayawati Should be the Opposition’s PM Face

No Dalit has occupied the highly coveted Prime Minister’s chair before, and it’s high time we correct that.

Updated
Opinion
5 min read
Image of Mayawati used for representational purposes.
i

Is it possible for Mayawati to be the Prime Minister of India? Rather, should the Opposition pitch her as the Prime Ministerial candidate for 2019?

A lot of people will recoil at such a query. This includes those who are in favour of an opposition coalition, and even those who do not want any deal to be struck with Mayawati. There are two reasons for this, but primarily it is the issue of Mayawati’s image.

Mayawati’s Image

A large group is of the opinion that Mayawati’s image is tarnished. It is because of serious allegations of corruption against her. Investigative agencies may tighten their noose on her any minute. The other group comprises those who’d never be “revolutionary” enough to allow for a Dalit Prime Minister to occupy the chair.

They might accept it in the case of a Presidential candidate, as is with our current President Ramnath Kovind, or was with former President K R Narayanan.

They also accepted K G Balakrishnan in the role of the Chief Justice without creating much hullabaloo. But, a Dalit candidate steering the country from the most coveted position, may not go down well – the only reason being casteism.

It is true that Mayawati’s image is that of a corrupt leader. But, she has proven her mettle as a strict chief minister, and efficient administrator – something even her opponents acknowledge.

She’s the only chief minister who was bold enough to get a corrupt member of her Cabinet arrested. But being a hard taskmaster is not the only criterion for the Prime Minister’s seat. Many chief ministers like Chandrababu Naidu and Nitish Kumar are able administrators. But in spite of it, they’ve been unsuccessful in influencing voters beyond their respective states. Even those voters who belong to the same caste or community as them, but reside in a different state, look the other way.

That, however, is not the case with Mayawati.

Dalit Angst

At this point in time, when the Opposition is trying every tactic to overthrow Modi, Mayawati could be just what they need. And, the prime reason for it is her Dalit identity, which makes her approach to elections different from the others.

Of late, there’s been much fear and resentment among Dalits. 

Over the last four years, since Modi came to power, it is believed that there has been a rise in Hindu dominance, and with it, a rise in atrocities against the Dalits.

The Supreme Court’s attempt to change the rules regarding SC/ST appointments at Universities, that may allow for departmental rosters to be considered for appointments as directed by the Modi government, Dalits will be led to believe that their entry into teaching is being restricted. There has been much bitterness over the issue of reserved category posts remaining vacant in such institutions.

It has led to the belief that the Modi government is responsible for excluding Dalits from institutes of higher learning.

This, in turn, furthers the belief that any atrocities committed in the name of caste, stem from the BJP or the RSS.

Despite multiple atrocities against Dalits – to cite a couple – the Una incident and the Saharanpur Rajput-Dalit clash – in most cases, the perpetrators, who are usually the higher-ups, have gone scot-free.

Young Faces of the Dalit Movement

When Dalits, led by the Bhima Army chief Chandrashekhar Azad, turned up in large numbers at Saharanpur to protest, Azad was arrested under the National Security Act, and it has been over a year since his arrest.

In a similar vein, there was violence to mark the bicentennial of the Bhima Koregaon battle. Again, Dalits were targeted. Their supporters were labeled as Naxalites, and jailed.

Many websites covering Dalit issues have sprung up in the past few years. Social media has also been able to channel this rage.

A new unity is being forged. There is a vocal expression of anger. In spite of no political party or group being involved, the coming together of the Dalits in big numbers at the Una protest was a significant event. A new leader for the Dalits emerged at this rally – Jignesh Mevani.

Mevani is not only loyal to the cause, he is also educated and understands the current political discourse. It is people like Jignesh and Chandrashekhar who are the vehicles of change for contemporary Dalit consciousness. It is this generation that is religiously reading the works of Baba Saheb Ambedkar. Their pent-up anger was bound to erupt. But, there is no other party, apart from the BSP, to channel this fury.

BSP is the only party that has maintained its integrity, staying loyal to the Dalit cause.

Although it managed to win only 18 seats in the 2017 Uttar Pradesh Vidhan Sabha elections, yet its vote-bank percentile was ahead of the Samajvadi Party’s, that is, 22.2 percent, as against SP’s 21.8 percent.

So, it would appear that Mayawati is no longer popular in UP.

A Nervous BJP

It is true that the percentage of seats won has significantly dropped, but the percentiles bear testimony to the fact that Mayawati is still very much the heart and soul of UP. Add to this, the efforts of Kanshi Ram, that led to Mayawati garnering votes in some other states as well. If a coalition forms between BSP and the Congress (for the November-December Vidhan Sabha elections for Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh), then BJP may be in trouble.

Out of the three, two states may easily slip out of the BJP’s hands.

And the biggest reason is that Mayawati is, even today, the most prominent leader of the Dalits – with the strongest of allies.

If the Opposition presents Mayawati as the Prime Ministerial candidate, they’d have the backing of most Dalits in the country. With Mayawati taking the lead, the Opposition will have an “X-factor”, which the BJP may not be able to challenge. It won’t be easy to attack Mayawati because of her Dalit identity.

BJP was aware of the resentment of Dalits, and to pacify the group, they positioned Ramnath Kovind as the President of the country. And, even as recent as last week, they nominated an almost unknown Dalit politician, Ram Shakal, from Eastern UP, to the Rajya Sabha.

This proves that the BJP is worried and wants to contain Dalit angst at any cost. The SP and BSP coalition might lead to the Modi government’s downfall in 2019. And if Mayawati is declared as the Prime Ministerial candidate, there is a high chance that the votes of the bystanders, which were won by the BJP in 2014 and 2017, would come to this coalition, demolishing the BJP stronghold, which had won 73 seats along with its allies.

The Way Forward

If there is a coalition in UP, Mayawati may emerge as the one with the maximum number of elected politicians in the country – after the Congress. But, the Congress needs to be large-hearted, as it was in Karnataka recently. Trinamool Congress (TMC) chief and West Bengal’s Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee will have to hold onto her horses. Akhilesh Yadav will have to display patience.

But, if the Opposition truly believes that Modi and the RSS are ruinous for the country, and that they are dedicated towards servicing the nation, then instead of choosing their own Prime Ministerial candidate, they can use this trump card. This will be a big deal for democracy. For how long can 20 percent of a nation’s population be kept away from the Prime Minister’s chair?

There was an opportunity in 1977, when Jagjivan Ram could’ve been made the Prime Minister.

The country lost an opportunity because of pure casteism. But, after 41 years, why can’t the nation correct this historic wrong? These are the only ways of successfully dealing with fascism.

(This article was originally published on QuintHindi and has been translated by Shraddha A Singh.)

(The writer is an author and spokesperson of AAP. He can be reached at @ashutosh83B This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)

(The Quint is available on Telegram. For handpicked stories every day, subscribe to us on Telegram)

Published: 
Stay Updated

Subscribe To Our Daily Newsletter And Get News Delivered Straight To Your Inbox.

Join over 120,000 subscribers!