Nita has a good post here that looks at Mayawati and Obama, there is an interesting discussion that is also taking place. I began putting my two bits in and it just got so long that i decided to blog about it (thanks Nita, it has been a long time since i posted anything that i thought too much about
When we look at Obama, we need to look at him beyond his colour and see him for what he is – the child of two post graduate students, who has seen the world – not as immigrant labor or an army brat — but as part of the academic intelligentsia. His father was from Kenya – and the elite there, foreign education is not for the truly down trodden. His mother was an anthropologist and development worker. That is his background — and his value systems have possibly been shaped by that. If the US was not such a colour conscious country – they would look beyond the colour and see him as another one of the ‘upper class’ elite. If he was typically African American – he wouldn’t have got this far . If he was typically white working class – he wouldn’t have got this far either
Contrast that with Mayawati. She is the second generation to gain from reservations. Her father was a government clerk. Her origins have more in common with the mainstay of the BJP vote bank. She was the protege to Kanshi Ram – possibly one of the most charismatic leaders of India post independence. In a way she is also part of the political elite. which is why she has got this far ….. the question is whether she will go further. Will she become Prime Minister ?
For me, caste and gender are not the only defining factor here. You possibly also need to look at region. She is a UP leader. If you want to be more charitable – she is a North Indian leader. Talk to the electorate in Maharashtra (even the ‘dalit vote bank’)- and she doesn’t have too many takers, talk to them in TN – they possibly would not even have heard of her. Talk to the in West Bengal – and she possibly does not even feature in the top 20. The problem with Mayawati is not that she is woman or Dalit or autocratic or corrupt. She faces the same problem that Sharad Pawar and MGR had, that Mulayam and Lallu have — they are regional heroes. Unless Mayawati positions her party and herself beyond where there are now — she will not be the PM. It has nothing to do with being either Dalit or Woman.
The Dalits in India are as diverse as any other community – in terms of language, culture, rituals, gods, heroes and even voting patterns. Pan Dalit identity is as difficult as a Pan Hindu or a Pan Muslim or a Pan Christian or even a Pan Indian identity. Unless Mayawati or anyone else overcomes their regional & caste persona and project a national persona – it is going to be difficult to be even a pan Indian Dalit leader . And, i am not sure that she should be positioning her self that way. If she has to succeed then she has to be a pan Indian leader and the BSP has to be a pan Indian party.
It is difficult in India to have an Obama or even a Clinton or a McCain. Our system is different. Our nation is different. We may follow the same broad principals – but our cultural variations make it impossible to project the one ……
btw – when all commentators talk about where is our Obama, he happened 70 years ago … despite the variations in culture, and the complete stranglehold of caste ……he was called Dr.Babasaheb Ambedkar…..:)