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The Ambedkar Armada

Harassment and casteist charges fly thick and fast as the Mayawati-Mulayam rivalry intensifies

The Ambedkar Armada

THERE is no recorded evidence that Bhim Rao Ambedkar ever went to Uttar Pradesh. But decades after his death, the battle between Chief Minister Mayawati's BSP (along with ally BJP) and Defence Minister Mulayam Singh Yadav's Samajvadi Party (SP) on the 'historical' role played by the framer of the Constitution threatens to reach epic proportions. And with crores of rupees being spent to seize the initiative, two simultaneous rallies in Lucknow and Etawah on June 19 seem to have given the edge to the feisty chief minister.

Since Match 21, when Mayawati took charge, a new element has been introduced into the fragmented politics of Uttar Pradesh: an aggressive 'Ambedkarism' that is making even former socialists, once the staunchest backers of lower caste reservations, wince in agony A day before his rally in Lucknow's Begum Hawatmahal Park, Mulayam was unsparing in his attack on this new ideology: "Who has done more for the propagation of Babasaheb Ambedkar's ideology than I have?" And then again: "Ram Manohar Lohia used to tell Ambedkar that there was no point in pursuing caste politics. But now the people who rule the state are doing just that," referring to the ruling BJP-BSP coalition but sticking by his policy of never publicly naming Mayawati or Kanshi Ram. Mulayam's close lieutenant and Union telecom minister Beni Prasad Verma went a step ahead, saying, "Ambedkar did nothing else except create trouble for Gandhiji."

Why the animus towards Ambedkar? And, by extension, against Dalits? Much of it stems from the virulent implementation of a 20-year-old Central legislation on Scheduled Castes and Tribes which bans the use of words notifying their caste. In the case of Uttar Pradesh, however, Mayawati has added a curious clause, whereby a high-caste Hindu calling a low-caste names constitutes a cognisable offence under the Indian Penal Code, but two people of a low caste calling each other names does not.

Naturally, her critics say such legislation lends itself to abuse. For instance, last fortnight, a superintendent of a local hospital, who was charged with embezzling funds, lodged an FIR under the SC/ST Act against members of the hospital employees union that had implicated her. With the result that union members now have a case lodged against them and have had to seek anticipatory bail.

Applied across the socio-political kaleidoscope, such legislation has deep ramifications and Mulayam's pique is understandable. At the rally, where he was the star speaker amongst a host of United Front luminaries like Deve Gowda, Ram Vilas Paswan, Chandrababu Naidu and Harkishen Singh Surjeet, he repeatedly harped on an alleged witch-hunt against SP members across Uttar Pradesh. His claim: of the 98,000 people held under various acts, 90 per cent are Samajvadi activists.

But the SC/ST Act is not the only one being implemented vigorously. Two other state legislations--the Goonda Act and Gangsters Act--are being followed to the book and a number of persons with questionable antecedents have been charged. Mayawati, of course, makes light of Mulayam's charges: "Where is the question of political vendetta? I have asked all my officers to move against crime on an even scale. No one will be spared."

That is bad news for Mulayam and gang. But have the same yardsticks been applied to BSP and BJP workers? Says state home secretary (confidential) N. Ravishankar: "The administration is not concerned with politics. Our agenda is to ensure a crime-free state and we are moving in that direction. We have identified a list of mafias active in the state and they will not be spated. Criminals, despite their political affiliations, will be charged."

BUT with charges flying thick and fast, it was only natural for Mulayam's ally, Union home minister Indrajit Gupta, to jump into the picture. In a letter to the Uttar Pradesh government, he said that law and order in the state has deteriorated and demanded action against those involved in the Hashimpura killings near Aligarh in 1987. In response, the state governor Romesh Bhandari submitted a report to the Centre which said a Central agency : should probe atrocities against SP workers in the state. Mayawati added her bit in a letter to the home minister, pointing out that Mulayam had forcibly entered the Badayun jail on June 6, and demanded a probe into the matter.

Mayawati has also been giving her detractors much grief by delineating new districts. In the last two months, districts have been carved out without any thought given to the finances that will have to be secured. And it has all been effected through public announcements, without any formal Cabinet approval. Not surprisingly, the names given to these districts have strong Dalit connotations. So Noida is now called Gautam Buddha Nagat; Amroha is Jyotiba Phule Nagar, named after the famous social reformer from Maharashtra; Hathras will now be known as Mahamaya Nagar, after Buddha's mother; and Chitrakoot is Sahujinagar.

While changing names is a gimmick used by politicians of all hues, the creation of new districts is a different thing altogether. Mayawati's own finance department has put up a special note, saying that the creation of each new district would cost the state exchequer Rs 150 crore. The note pointed out that since there was no budgetary allocation for such a pupose, it would be impossible to support such creations, which entail setting up district administrative headquarters including offices and homes for a whole battery of officials and staff. So, much so that many administrators are currently functioning out of tents and makeshift accommodation in the new districts.

On June 19, at Mayawati's parallel rally in Etawah, the chief minister turned Jaswantnagar, Mulayam's birth place and no more than a cluster of villages, into a tehsil. According to finance department officials, the cost of setting up a tehsil is Rs 25 crore, but there is no word on where the money is going to come from.

In such a situation even BJP leaders are uncomfortable. Says former chief minister Kalyan Singh: "While creating districts, a number of things have to be taken into account, like the geographical unity of the place, law and order and the pace of development. I am not sure if all this has been taken into consideration." Asked whether money was coming in freely for Ambedkar projects and not for Deen Dayal Upadhyaya schemes promoted by BJP ministers in Uttar Pradesh, all Singh conceded is that the matter needs to be investigated.

Significantly, in this battle of attrition, the Mulayam-BJP battle has faded into the background, with the Mulayam-Mayawati tussle hogging all the attention. Recently, Mulayam reportedly told a journalist that the question of the rape of BSP members did not arise "because they were not that pretty". When questioned about it, the chief minister is said to have shot back that people who talk like this "should be beaten up with slippers". And on June 19, just as Mulayam had begun his speech, Mayawati's chopper was hovering above the ground. The symbolism in that will, no doubt, be debated in Uttar Pradesh for weeks to come.

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