Sunday, November 9, 2008

Obambulating in Indian politics

When analysing the Obama victory, every one is understandably not comfortable with the race talk. Its historic significance for someone of African origin became president of white-majority America. What they say is perfectly correct – ideal – that we mustn’t get fixated on caste, race and religion.

However, I take a rather politically incorrect position here. It is a little na├»ve to believe that our polity has moved beyond the questions of ethnicity; the identity and origin still remain determining factors. A black man’s ascendance to presidency is a historic highpoint at which Hillary’s ‘white America’ shunned racial considerations. It signifies not only the political wisdom and ability of Obama to transcend race but also high secular values of American people for whom colour was hardly a factor in their political choice.

Here, I adventure a racially disturbing question in the Indian political scene – are we ready for a Dalit prime minister? Let me clarify that one shouldn’t be made prime minister just because he was born Dalit. My question is if Indian society is ready for accepting a so called untouchable as its prime minister – if he or she has all the political, moral and intellectual credential to be the country head?

I don’t say we are not. But I can’t say we are ready. One of the most scholarly, erudite and efficient presidents of the Indian republic who was an ardent practitioner of Nehruvian secularism was a Dalit. History will ever say he was a right choice. The elected head of the most populous state of the country is a Dalit woman.

When K.R.Narayanan died, among the snippets in front page of Times of India, it appeared: country’s first Dalit president dead. It was a brief news, negating and obliviating his great contribution to the country and reducing his historic significance to mere ‘Dalit’ president, implying that ‘Dalitness’ is the foremost thing to talk about him. It appeared to me patronising, prejudicial and condescending.

That we are at a sad state where we are not confident enough to write K.R.Narayanan is dead, presupposing that the reading public needs an introduction – country’s first Dalit president.

When discussing caste or reservation; the articulate sections’ response is often patronising, prejudicial and condescending. Reservation of admissions and appointments are perceived by many as an ill-conceived mechanism which allows some sections to eat away something which is rightfully theirs. Sadly, they choose to rebuff the issue of historical absence of a level playing ground which led to the disenfranchisement of a vast section of population. And a society's collective obligation to close those gaps.

The so called mainstream is not ready to accept Mayavati. I think Modi has greater acceptance than Mayavati in the mainstream. Mayavati is accused of playing up identity politics, for raising the issue of untouchability, perhaps far more fervently than any greater practitioners of divisive politics such as Advani, Modi and co.

I think it is because what Mayavati’s politics raises is an inconvenient truth to many. When she cobbled up an unimaginable Brahmin-Dalit coalition we accused her of political opportunism. Yes, she is cantankerous, whimsical, antagonistic, acrimonious, devious, callous and greedy. But there is a fundamental problem in us, expecting her to be a saint in a murky political system where everyone else is muddied.

However, I do not see Mayavati as an Indian version of Obama. Her ability to consolidate space for subaltern politics is commendable. Her political muscle to withstand heinous annihilation tactics is noteworthy. Her struggle to formulate a formidable mass movement deserves credit.

However, she requires far more grace, wisdom, intellect and studiousness to be equal to Obama. I think, if not Mayavati, in subsequent generations there should be someone, who can rise beyond caste, who is far greater competent to deal with the increasingly complex intricacies of governance. At the historic point at which he/she emerges we, as a polity, also may be better prepared to put behind our intolerances. I think we are preparing.

* obambulate
verb tr.: To walk about.


sreejan said...

hmmm... a little immature. india elected krn as president and kgb as cji took place well before america could even think about obama. u shdn't underestimate those.
mayawati, is unfit for the pm's job not buz she is dalit but buz she is the most corupt among all the pm-probables. yet, a third front option shines bright for her n v cnt rule out the chance.
we really missed the chance in 77 whn jagajivan ram was almost in. he deservd it in evryway. but vajpayee n co sabotagd the plan by swtchng over to morarji camp. is ther a tall dalit leader fit for the job nw?? name him/her. let's debate

Adivasi said...

It is indeed heartening a Black man has become the president of a country that had enslaved Blacks for more than four centuries. But I am under no illusion that he can bring about drastic changes in the country’s basic foreign policy, for the US is actually ruled by certain lobbies, which will continue exporting uncertainties, conflicts and war to various parts of the globe to satiate its ulterior motives and quench its never-ending thirst for oil. Asked about his take on Iran, he said the country should stop terrorism. Isn’t the same hawkish tone used by Bush?
Both Obama and Mayawati share some commonalities, the prime one being both represent the downtrodden and the oppressed. But it is really sad they don’t/are unable to use their positions for the benefit of the people they represent. I am not being negative regarding Obama; let’s wait and watch. I am sure Obama won’t be a cruel jerk like Bush.
My blood still boils when I think about Indian media’s coverage of KR Narayan’s demise. (I vent my anger in the form of an editorial in MEANTIME magazine, though!). All the mainstream newspapers were trying to project his Dalit identity, as if he was a Dalit first and then a human being second.
Finally, in Indian simply having a so-called low class president or PM at the helm doesn’t make any difference to the people, as long as Dalits are burnt alive, their wives and daughters paraded naked and gang-raped in public and perpetrators go scrot-free. After his term, K R Narayanan regretted for not having able to speak out against the Gujarat genocide. He couldn’t even raise his voice against those horrendous crimes.

sajithkumar said...

More than the skin tone f Obama,what caught worlds imagination was the word 'Change'.and what lured the english speaking indians is his oratory,his charisma,and his neatly choreogarphed campaign for Change.
isnt stupid looking for parallels-the Obama and Mayawati?i think so.
he has shown by example that hes no-nonsense person.and hes able to lead an emancipated generation.while in India ,ts no wonder,Mayawati has to flex her muscle,chase down her adversaries,amass wealth and be corrupt -only coz shes born into murky politics of our nation.erecting her statues-an illusion to eternity-she forgets what shes there for.where s the vision?.
as you said, we r prepared-not for mayawati,but someone who has the clear vision for change,that could change the course f a nation.Mayavati surely can facilitate such a change.
so CHANGE is the word...any indian obama to take it?

reporter'sdiary said...

Sreejan, there is no underestimation. I began analysing our readiness to accept an Obama-like phinomenon by refering to KRN. But, we know that the prime minister is the functional head while president is the constitutional head. Mayavati's prime ministerial quality is debatable, I agree.
Firos, I am glad that there are some others too, who felt K.R.Narayanan's demise was under-reported. It can't be said that he didn't do anything while Gujarat was burning. He wrote to Vajpayee a strongly-worded letter. Yes, he was not publicly vocal, may be because of constitutional propriety.
And Sajith, U said it!

Traveller said...

how could you pick up Mayavati, who plays the dirty caste politics as a role model or ray of hope for a casteless ideal society leader?

We need a society where equality prevails. And for acheiving that purpose, we tried reservations for almost 50 years. Where are we now? arent our Dalit masses still downtrodden? Why????? This is where we need to fix the curve in the system and starighten it. historical facts are not forgotten, but recent past and future is equally important.

reporter'sdiary said...

Never in my write-up I said Mayavati should be made Prime Minister. Although, I don't share the pejorititative attitude some others have for her. I made it clear that Mayavati is not equal to Obama. But an Obama-like phinominon can happen in the coming generations which can wipe off the racial past of the country.

reporter'sdiary said...

And my problem is with those who question the political legitimacy of Mayavati who do not question the legitimacy of Advani and Modi who have polluted our political landscape in the worst manner...