MAYAWATI is an Indian politician but she has a great message for Pakistan. Why? She has an excellent idea for all troubled democracies, not the least her very own India. Mayawati leads one of India’s most economically exploited and socially abused communities of the erstwhile outcastes, the Dalits.
With her base in the most populous Uttar Pradesh, Mayawati wields enough influence with her community to tip the balance in a close race elsewhere. She got zero seats, for the first time, in the 2014 parliamentary elections despite her solid 20 per cent votes.
The Congress won two seats in the Modi sweep — Sonia Gandhi and her son Rahul — with fewer than 8pc votes in their kitty. The Modi sweep showed how the upper castes were ranged against Mayawati to the extent that a party with less than half her electoral net worth ended ahead of her in the head count.
Being a Dalit requires Mayawati to be of a scrupulously scientific temper unlike most Indian parties. Her Buddhism of necessity has to be a fountain of reason and scientific temper, unlike the upper-crust Buddhists of Myanmar, Sri Lanka or Tibet who cannot claim the aloofness from organised mythmaking that Mayawati refrains from.
What is the strategic selflessness that Mayawati has displayed which can be of interest to liberals and democrats in India and Pakistan?
In this sense Mayawati is closer to the old — as opposed to today’s — Dravida parties of southern India ie avowedly rational. In her fight for social justice for the lowest in the caste heap she has embraced Muslims, Sikhs and Christians generously.
Mayawati’s message to everyone who could benefit from it goes beyond her agreeable appeal. Her message can be, in fact, a winning political strategy. Let’s call the message strategic selflessness. Given her Buddhist faith, Mayawati may even see in it the only viable route to salvation. Buddha said over 2,500 years ago that the way forward was selflessness. It was a direct critique of greed and plunder and savagery in its worst form.
In its political avatar, therefore, the trouble for ordinary men, women and children comes from the far right, be it in Pakistan or in India, in Europe or the United States. A liberal polity allows for all ideas, including narrow ideas, to circulate freely in the belief that such ideas would wane before the magic of egalitarian democracy. The threat Mayawati faces is an Indian variant of European fascism, which never allows a liberal thought to escape its hateful vigil.
So, what is the strategic selflessness that Mayawati has displayed, which can be of interest to liberals and democrats in India and Pakistan? She first identified the mortal threat to her people and their politics. She determined it came from the advent of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s divide-and-rule politics of hate. She calculated that if she didn’t act, her own people would discard their Dalit identity to shore up Hindutva, now gaining ground with the middle classes.
Using a crucial by-election to test the ground, Mayawati committed her Bahujan Samaj Party’s 20pc solidly transferable votes to the campaign of her erstwhile arch foe the Samajwadi Party’s kitty of 23pc votes. The result of the BSP-SP alliance triggered a tame defeat for Modi’s party in Phulpur and Gorakhpur parliamentary seats in Uttar Pradesh. His chief minister and deputy chief minister had vacated both the seats so the result was egg on their face and Modi’s.
Let’s transport that idea to Pakistan and then to the rest of India.
There is a fear stalking Pakistan that a combination of right-wing religious parties with the tacit help of a conniving state apparatus would quell all hopes of Jinnah’s inclusive and open society. When Mahatma Gandhi was using religion to lead Indian Muslims in their campaign for mediaeval revival of the khilafat, Jinnah was admiring the modernist influence of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk. Now a combination of religious and revanchist parties of Pakistan are plotting to waylay and bury the modernist dream forever. But there is Mayawati’s wisdom to guide Pakistan out of its despair. She joined hands with a party that once allegedly plotted to kill her. Now she’s discovered masterly selflessness as a panacea for India’s ills.
Why can’t Pakistanis join hands against a common fatal threat, and stay there as an invincible, open-minded people? If the PPP could assure the Sharifs, for example, that their best interests would be protected by a confluence of new thought, led by all willing parties, based on the Quaid’s tenets for Pakistan, they should easily able to ford through the gathering storm.
For that everyone must shun the dream of becoming prime minister, and instead should be willing to win the hearts and minds of a perennially betrayed people with generosity and selflessness. They can then invite Mayawati to inaugurate their new government.
There is an existential threat of religious and ethnic fratricide if the opinionated right wing consolidates further in either country.
The Indian conundrum is more intractable. Sample the fraught chessboard. Sitaram Yechury, the re-elected chief of the Communist Party of India-Marxist wants to unite the opposition to defeat the Modi government in 2019. Rahul Gandhi too wants the opposition to unite to defeat the BJP. The Congress and the CPI-M are bitter foes in Kerala.
For reasons of history, Congress and the CPI-M have an axe to grind with Mamata Banerjee, the most convincing anti-Modi chief minister of West Bengal. Can they come together selflessly, though not cynically as Nitish Kumar had joined hands with Lalu Yadav in Bihar only to desert him midstream? Will Congress join hands with Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal. How much ground will Kejriwal yield on his anti-corruption plank to link up with Mayawati and Lalu’s realpolitik? Mayawati has shown a preference for sanity over suicide. Now it is for the rest to decide their route to salvation.
The writer is Dawn’s correspondent in Delhi.
Published in Dawn, April 24th, 2018