From Rajdeep “Maya & Ambedkar: Incongruous? May be not”
- “At a time when Mayawati's Dalit memorials have sparked off a raging debate, it might be instructive to consider what the original Dalit icon, Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar, would have done in a similar situation. What is almost certain is that, unlike the UP chief minister, he would not have ordered the construction of his own statues. A fierce rationalist, Ambedkar disliked all forms of political idol worship. "In politics, hero worship is a sure road to degradation and eventual dictatorship," he said in a seminal speech before the Constituent Assembly in 1949.
- Sixty two years later, there is little doubt that Mayawati has emerged as the great dictator of Uttar Pradesh, someone who controls India's most populous state with an iron fist - which is why she can insist on having her own life-size statue alongside those of Ambedkar, Phule, Shahu and Kanshi Ram. Which is also why she can brazenly claim that the 675 crores spent on the Dalit Prerna Sthal has come entirely through party donations when the fact is that the UP government had already budgeted a whopping Rs 3000 crore on Dalit memorials and parks across the state. This in a state where 38 per cent of Dalits have never attended school, where 70 per cent is still the estimated school dropout rate among Dalits and where hundreds of children die of encephalitis every year because of lack of healthcare facilities.”
- “Even as they indulge their pride (misplaced or otherwise) contemplating the architecture and the names of the past and present, India’s elites seem to forget the ironical fact that the Dalits do not have much of a place in these sanitised propaganda efforts. Upper-caste Hindus may take pride in the Madurai temple; Muslims may take pride in the Gol Gumbaz; Jains may take pride in the Gomateshwara statue; Sikhs may take pride in the Amritsar Golden Temple; Buddhists may take pride in the Sanchi Stupa; Christians may take pride in the San Thome Cathedral. What are Dalits to take pride in? The grand temples of India (including the ruined ones) are only reminders of buildings where the ancestors of today’s Dalits were denied entry.
- It is this lacuna in Dalit identity formation that Mayawati has brilliantly recognised. She is not at all stupid when she builds a park and erects statues with the conscious motive of overawing visitors with a sense of gigantism. She is imitating Rajaraja, Shah Jahan and Hardinge. And she understands that, in a century or two, a Dalit parent can proudly take his or her children to the monument and show it to the young ones with a measure of pride whispering in their ears, “We had a great leader — look around you and take pride in what she built.” We fail to understand the important political purpose of Mayawati’s projects, but we overlook the DMK’s aesthetically challenged statues, we dare not criticise the repeated use of Shivaji’s name and we acquiesce in the monopolisation of the public space by the Nehru-Gandhi family.
- Mayawati is a superb politician and will go down in history as one who did what great statesmen from Augustus Caesar down have done — she is using architecture to achieve political ends. Dalits get this. The chattering elites need to abandon their double standards and understand this.”