What is missing in such ‘common sense’ perceptions is that Mayawati along with Kanshi Ram, like all innovators and path breakers, has been an iconoclast of the highest order. Between the two of them, they have created for the first time in Indian history a successful party representing some of the poorest and socially ostracized masses of the country. Like it or not, it is an unprecedented achievement. This has been done by technique and strategies that have made no sense to many because their politics is of a very different nature.
For instance, a party that claims to represent the socially oppressed, the BSP has never indicated any kind of social reform or advanced any social and economic programme for the Dalits. It’s party organization structure unique- it is neither cadre based nor does it have a hierarchy to accommodate aspiring next rung leaders. It has consciously abstained from agitation politics to focus only on creating a political machinery intent on winning elections.1 Indeed, were it not for its operation within a democratic setup, the single mindedness of its leaders is reminiscent of Lenin’s insistence on capturing state power.
Between Kanshi Ram and Mayawati, therefore, their politics has been based on iconoclasm. This iconoclasm is present even in the act of installing statues of the three icons of Dalit politics in contemporary India- BR Ambedkar, Kanshi Ram and Mayawati. It can be argued that the media is biased when it does not report the BSP’s political and economic acts of empowering dalits. It can be argued that the importance of creating dalit icons is paramount for those who have been long ostracized. It can be argued that the upper castes too have used public and private money in setting up their hegemonic symbols. It can be argued that those who urge using the money to be used for economic development instead of installing statues forget that they have themselves ignored doing exactly that for over six decades, else the BSP would not have existed. It can also be argued that if all they have done is to install statues of Gandhis and Nehrus, then they have little to expect other than the installation of counter icons.
Above all, fact of the matter is that Mayawati is a politician and a masterly one at that. Given the meteoric rise of the BSP under her leadership in UP, it is certain that she has done her homework before going ahead with this act.
Like all acts in politics, it is a gamble.
It is possible that she may gain a popular following by installation of these statues. It is possible too that this may boomerang. Even in the latter case, it is certain that she shall leave behind powerful symbols that will inspire future social struggles. In either case, it is a political advance for dalit and alternative politics.
(1) I owe these insights to Ajoy Bose, author of Mayawati’s biography Behenji (Penguin)