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 naïve 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.
verb tr.: To walk about.