ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Misplaced Symbolism

The politics of symbolism has been taken to the extreme by Mayawati.

Symbolism has always played an important part in the Bahujan Samaj Party’s (BSP) politics. Memorials, statues, parks and museums have been dedicated to dalit and social reform leaders of the past and present – from Jyotiba Phule to Bhimrao Ambedkar, E V “Periyar” Ramasamy, and Mayawati’s mentor, Kanshi Ram. But the Mayawati-led BSP government in Uttar Pradesh (UP) has taken such symbolism to the extreme, budgeting nearly Rs 2,000 crore to build statues and the like, not only of the aforementioned icons but also of the chief minister herself, disregarding the convention of their construction and dedication only posthumously. However, by no means is the UP government’s usage of public expenditure for such purposes unique – symbolism in Indian politics and governance across states is replete with examples of building on a legacy through various means, including hagiography. To that extent, the exclusive negative attention in the media and the derision reserved for Mayawati’s obsession with symbolism is unjustified and smacks of hypocrisy. But again, the scale of grandeur and the thin line between symbolism and establishing a personality cult that the Mayawati-led government has traversed calls into question the priorities of the two-year old government and indeed the ever-evolving politics of the BSP.

Much of the surprising electoral success in 2007 by the BSP in UP owes it to the astute political strategising by Mayawati. In winning the assembly elections by a clear majority in India’s largest state, Mayawati turned Indian politics on its head – for the first time, an avowedly dalit party had come to power on its own. The major reason for the victory was the strategy of forging a multi-caste alliance with the strings of power in the hands of the dalit chief minister. The victory in 2007 catapulted the chief minister into the national limelight and it was expected that her government’s performance and the progress of her party would

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