After Dr. BR Ambedkar’s death on 6th December, 1956, N. Shivrajan, the first president of the Republican Party of India had remarked that a leader like him is more dangerous dead than alive. Just 2 months before, Ambedkar had converted to Buddhism along with 10 lakhs of his followers in Nagpur. Bahujan Samaj party and other Ambedkarite parties continue to follow his vision and his movement for social justice and caste annihilation even today.
The Supreme Court bench led by the Chief Justice of India had made an observation on 8th Feb, 2019 about the former Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh, Mayawati; that she should pay back the public money which she had squandered from her own pocket, based on the accusation that she had spent around 52 crores of public money on building elephant statues.
Successive Congress governments have drained public funds to build memorials and parks for Mohandas Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru, Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi. The Bharatiya Janata Party used public money to build the Statue of Unity in Gujarat, which deprived and displaced thousands of people from their homes. Tamil Nadu government under Jayalalitha distributed thousands of mixers and water bottles with her face printed upon it.
Why were the questions simply reserved for parks dedicated to bahujan icons?
The BJP Shiv Sena government in Maharashtra announced that they would construct a statue of Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj in the Arabian Sea near Mumbai city. Yet, these were not regarded as issues of misuse of public funds. Then why did this ten-year old public interest case against Mayawati come up just prior to the 2019 Lok Sabha elections?
The rule by the RSS-BJP government has vehemently targeted Dalits, Muslims and Other Backward Classes that form 85 per cent of the Indian population in the last 6 years. These weaker sections have been at the receiving end of discriminatory government policies and have borne the brunt of majoritarian right-wing violence. Rohith Vermula’s suicide in Hyderabad, the Una incident in Gujarat, arrest of Bhim army leader Chandrashekhar Azad, Bhima Koregaon violence, suppression of Ambedkar-Periyar study circle in IIT Chennai and a lot more instances of injustices are reasons why Dalits in India are furious with the BJP government.
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Raking up the case against Mayawati in that particular instance could have been a means to counter the anti-BJP alliances forming across India. In UP, with 80 Lok Sabha seats, the two largest state parties- Akhilesh Yadav’s Samajwadi party and Mayawati’s BSP, had announced in 2019 that they would fight against the BJP. The alliance was not just two-party, but an alliance between two parties of marginalised castes. Together, they represented Dalits, Muslims, and OBCs who comprise 75% of the population in Uttar Pradesh.
Perhaps this was the real reason why BJP sought to target Mayawati and create fear among her BSP leaders and her cadres. Simultaneously, they also used the government machinery to target SP leader Akhilesh Yadav and RJD leader Lalu Yadav; as these leaders spoke for the rights of Dalits and Bahujans.
Dalits are the most marginal group in India, who continue to suffer from caste discrimination, violence and the gruesome crime of untouchability, despite its abolition. India, in reality, is made up of two countries. One is Savarna India, of the dominant castes. The other is Dalit India.
The targeting of Mayawati is deeply rooted within India’s legacy of casteism. The Savarnas who did not have any problem with the statues of Nehru, Patel, Gandhi, or even the Hindutva icon Savarkar, are acting out of an internalized hatred against everything that Mayawati stands for, by targeting her. Public art and culture in India are mostly dominated by Savarna icons. These public parks and museums continue to perpetrate their soft as well as hardcore versions of Hindutva politics and influence.
The upper caste, casteist argument against Mayawati is that she wasted money on her statues and her own party symbol of the elephant. However, one also needs to consider the fact that elephants have a significant connection with Buddhism. The elephant symbol is very important in the Buddhist caves across India. Elephant was also the symbol of the Republican Party of India founded by Ambedkar. It is a symbol of peace, non-violence, and strength not just for the BSP, but all Buddhists.
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What the Savarna media conveniently forgets is that the 108-acre park in Lucknow has 10 different sections, each dedicated to the memories of different anti-caste leaders which include Jyotirao Phule and his wife Savitribai Phule who was the first Indian woman teacher.
Other statues include those of her guru and political idols Ambedkar and Kanshi Ram, Buddha and many other anti-caste thinkers. Her statue is only one of a dozen other statues in the 108 acres dial that attracts thousands of visitors on a daily basis.
There are almost no other public memorials in India that share and celebrate a positive history of the lives of Ambedkarites. But caste continues to be a living reality for many Indians. The monuments built by Mayawati are a commemoration and acknowledgement of those brave individuals who fought against caste. They empowered Dalit-Bahujans and yielded to them the much-needed hope, and a belief that they too can live with social justice and dignity, without being forced to suffer discrimination and violence.
Vidhi Bubna is a contributor at SheThePeople. Research and views are the author’s own.