Will an “untouchable” become India’s Obama?

November 6, 2008

Will a Dalit, or “untouchable” become India’s Obama? That is the question being posed by some commentators in the India press after the United States elected their first black president.

One Dalit woman, the chief minister of Uttar Pradesh known as Mayawati, is the first person to come to mind. Her astonishing rise from Dalit teacher to head of India’s most populous state has led to speculation she could be a prime ministerial candidate in 2009.

For an interesting article on the subject, read “Waiting for India‘s Obama” by T.K Arun.

Unlike the United States, which directly elects a president, Mayawati could win power in parliamentary system through negotiations between India’s political parties after the general elections, due by May.

There is evidence
her Dalit-based party
could become the third biggest party in the election, becoming a

possible kingmaker.

In one sense Mayawati could represent an even greater
revolution than Obama in a country where Dalits have been oppressed for centuries and who still suffer the kind of discrimination that reminds oneself of the United States’ Deep South in the 1950s.

On the other hand, as some commentators point out, Mayawati
parades her caste to win over Dalits. Obama reached out across the race spectrum and did not use his colour. He campaigned mostly on policy. Maywati has made headlines as much for allegations of corruption and excess — such as erecting statues in her honour — as original policy ideas.

I went to Mayawati’s birthday party in Lucknow this year. There, she
had the various top public figures, from police chiefs and civil servants and politicians, finger feed her with cake. Most of them were upper caste.

Will she be asking the same of Sonia Gandhi in New Delhi after the general elections?


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From my observation in thelast few months it look like this guy Alistair Scrutton, is expert in writing utter useless articles. This article is again shows his useless/wasteful mentality. In India nobody has objected Mayawati becoming a PM, infact KR narayannan a dalit has already served as Rashtrapati (Highest post).

What it matters is the person becoming Prime minister has got brains and be able to run a efficient, corruption free goverment. Infact our present PM Dr. Manmohan singh is testimony to our secular credintials, although he is running a corrupt and highly inefficient goverment. So Mr. Alistair Scrutton stop writing this utter useless blogs, instead you can write a blog about introduction of some black and asian faces as minister/PM of your native UK.

Posted by Sanjay | Report as abusive

India has had several “Obamas” in its 60 year history: people from minority or maginalized communities who have made it to important political posts through sheer hard work and on merit. Our PM now is also from a minority community. Our record has been better in that regard than America’s.

But India, or any European democracy, will never see the kind of personality and aura building that the US presidential campaign has seen around Obama, because parliamentary democracies work differently. Personalities and auras, however charismatic, tend to get diluted in the long-drawn out process of coalition building and constant negotiations. So we will never see anything like Obamamania because interest groups are formed around too many different political ideologies. Yet I think in the longer run a parliamentary democracy is a healthier system.

Posted by Sudha Rajagopalan | Report as abusive

I start with a big YES, very contradictory to Indian Society, the one and One Mayawathi madam can become country’s ever first Prme Minister.

Posted by raasan | Report as abusive


Posted by raasan | Report as abusive

i am proud that mayawati has attained such great heights being a dalit. on the contrary she should focus on the welfare of people whether they are dalits or other castes than being famous herself.

politicians should involve their conscience wherever possible. Money makes them crazy. But what if they are not paid for their post. will they still continue the upliftment of the country.

to all politicians:- love our very own country INDIA. and all good things will happen to our INDIA. i am a very tiny citizen of INDIA, but i love my country. and if possible i can sacrifice, not my life atleast my few years for our country.

Posted by theresa patel | Report as abusive

FYI Reuters, KR Narayanan was from scheduled caste who was president of India. We had muslim presidents christian presidents. Is this your todays article to put india down ? Get a life .

Posted by vivek | Report as abusive

Mr. Scrutton, your most important and relevant point is that Obama did not use/abuse his color – the only way for Mayavati to get anywhere near the Prime Ministerial seat would be to strongly use her lower caste credentials. But then there’s nithing wrong with that, given that anyone who comes to power will be using some similar platform.

Posted by Vishnu Shastri | Report as abusive

India’s Obama should be person of substance who can unify the country beyond the distinctions of color, caste and race. I don’t think Mayawati comes any close to that. I think the nation would heartily welcome a leader from dalit, if the person has some substance.

Posted by abhishek bhor | Report as abusive

do not tarnish obama, by calling him black he is a true american. First let mayawati learn adminstration and stop always crying about her being dalit. let her take her own decision rather than depending upon 2 or 3 babus.

Posted by jass | Report as abusive

she will ensure that the fabric that is india is destroyed. she is a low caste and deservedly so. you idiots who has commented here – do you know what you are talking about? we don’t need a donkey or a buffalo herd to rule the country. we need a statesman who will earn the respect and command respect. this dark stone ass will only cultivate hatred and divide the country on communal lines. i hope she will die of a incurable disease soon.

Posted by vishwanath | Report as abusive

Unfortunately this could become a reality. Obama has a very good credentials. His income did not suddenly jump by crores of rupees over a short period. Also Obama doesn’t seem to be a man who will go around erecting his own statues all around. Obama never in his campaign talked about how black he is and how how downtroden his people are and that is why every one should vote for him.our Dalit leadres only qualification is her caste and she seems to take advantage of that.
So there si no comparison betwwen Obama and Mayawati

Posted by Dinesh | Report as abusive

Mayavati is no Barrack Obama. Whats wrong with you all.

Posted by Indian | Report as abusive

I could care less about her caste than her personal integrity and ethics. Everything we know about her is she is a self-serving and conniving aggrandizer — corrupt and vindictive. Obama didn’t play the race card and no one has accused him of pecuniary malfeasance. The same can’t be said of Mayavati and it’d be a shame if she can manipulate her way into the office of the PM.

Yes, I know this is possible in India and it has happened before with many politicians. The embarrassment before the world for India, if she makes it, would be the commentary like this:”The first Dalit PM of India, Mayavati has also been widely criticized and reviled for corruption, caste favortism and vindictiveness towards her opponents.” I don’t think that, unlike the Obama election, it’d be a good reason to celebrate or take pride in ourselves as Indians before the eyes of the world.

Dev Dasgupta
New York, USA

Posted by Dave Dasgupta | Report as abusive

Jaggivan Ram was a dalit /Bc who was a PM

Posted by ambrish | Report as abusive

Obama did not win the election based on his race. He won it based on his policies and vision for India. Mayawati has only one vision, exploit the Dalit vote bank and fill her personal coffers. Please be reminded that K.R Narayanan (Late Former President of India) was a Dalit. So, the answer is Yes, India is, was and will be ready for an Untochable to lead her, but God forbid it will be Mayawati.

Posted by Ganesh | Report as abusive

Mayawati as PM of India, yes it can happen in India. She could be compared to Sarah Palin in many ways, lavish spending, uneducated in world politics, history and economics. Yeah, as long as there are more number of uneducated and irrational people living on this planet, there can be leaders like Mayawati and Palin can rule the democracies like India and US.

You can’t fix stupid, people have to fix themselves. I guess we have no choice but see this one day. No offense to Dalits, as the other blogger mentioned, India had and has many Dalit leaders, one of our president K.R Naraynan is a Dalit, he is highly educated and elegant diplomat. It will be very unfortunate to see Mayawati as PM.

Posted by Satish | Report as abusive

in the advanced countries like uk or us, the people look at the merit of their leader. their leader is elected after it is ascertained that he has the ability to lead. that is the reason we do not see horsetrading and instability, but rather a stable government that completes the term. people like mayavati do no have any quality for the world leaders to respect. for a country like india which prides itself with high numbers of doctors,scientists etc, we have better qualified people to run the nation. in between why should anyone bring the caste factor? if a person is qualified enough how does it matter what his color or caste is?

Posted by vishwanath | Report as abusive

Sorry to say this Mr. Alistar Scrutton , but before putting up a blog like this you must know the history well .. many have written about the past minority religion or lower caste politicians , so i wont reapeat the names. I would just like to say that i can’t agree more with @devdas gupta .@vivek , @Sanjay !!!!
Its not about any persons caste , its about his/her personality that makes him/her eligible for a post ! And as far as this women is concerned , i will be ashamed if she becomes the PM/President of the country ! And Mr.Scrutton , wake up , if we have to compare the india’s caste’ism and america’s rasicm … india is far far better as most of the states in india have the so called lower caste Chief Minister .. i guess you are more concerned about the caste than the general public of india , who has stopped seeing such differences !

Posted by Radhika Ganesan | Report as abusive

I don’t agree with the article the way it is presented, is it necessary to include minority, caste in the building of nation and as per our history many top positions are adorned by many of the minority people in past as mentioned above by some of Indian friends.
The capable person (Knowledge and imagination)is needed for india to guide.

Posted by Vivek | Report as abusive



Posted by Rahul Mitra | Report as abusive

Alistair Scrutton, congrats for nice article. We Indians are eager to see Mayawati as prime minister. She will successfully carry ‘sarvajan hitaya’ agenda

Posted by Dr. Ajay | Report as abusive

I am from Uttar Pradesh, the state where Mayawati is Chief Minister. The question is not whether Mayawati, a dalit can become PM of India, question is whether can she run the country. She is Chief Minister for almost 18 months – the developments have come to a standstill. Investments are not coming to UP. Till June, 2008 UP received investment of only Rs 339 crore (as reported in The Pioneer). In contrast Rs 1000 crore was being spent in building memorials and statues. UP is one of the most backward states of India. Do we need statues or development. How can Inda progress if we will have a PM who can not look beyond statues.

Posted by Biswajeet Banerjee | Report as abusive

Mr. Alistair Scrutton, Congratulations to you for publishing a relevant article with high news value. Don’t bother about the cooments of Vishwanath and Radhika Ganesan etc. Those Tamil Brahmins still feel that the PMs who ruled India for the last 60 years made this country a super power. India is still a backward nation with corruption, illeteracy and caste politics.

India need an Obama to save this country. The so called upper castes ruled this country for the last 6 decades and spoiled this country. Now we have more problem in India compared to the problems of pre-independent India.

Every Tom, Dick and Harry ruled this country…we know what India is today……

Dev Dasgupta commented about personal integrity and ethics..phew….. he think that India was ruled by Raja Harichandras for the last 60 years. Devdas guptaji, don’t write too much about India sitting at New York City. Dalits in India are changing fast…..

Let the majority Indians decide who should rule this country. Don’t allow brahmins to spoil this country once again….


Posted by INDIAN | Report as abusive

If you all don’t think Obamamania started because he was different from the average candidate, then you are greatly mistaken. He was virtually unknown until this election, and media “Politically-Correct” spin has placed him where he is. If Obama was not black, do you really think he would be in the white house? Politicians don’t have to play the race/caste card for themselves, the media does it for them. Case in point, this article. Should we really be electing people who are different from the average citizen to our highest offices just because they are different. Because that is what Obamamania was all about…Change. Nobody cares if it is prudent change or not, just change. Sounds kinda like gambling to me…

Posted by Patrick | Report as abusive

As a Hindu, I have nothing against dalits (obc, sc.. whatever), I don’t care about this ‘untouchable’ bull mostly westerners seem to care about (and think we all do as well).

If you are qualified for the job, you deserve to be a leader. Unfortunately, Mayawati is not qualified for anything but wasting tax payers money to erect useless statues so people can worship her (or spit at her, your choice) and gather crores from nowhere of course claiming them to be ‘donated by her followers’ (who need quota to earn a descent living in the first place).

So this post does nothing more than confirm the BS westerners seem to see as far as India is concerned. Oh and FYI, India has had more revolutionary changes as far as electing different religions, sexes to castes into power than any western country could even dream of, so whatever.

Posted by Nikhil Sharma | Report as abusive

[…] Full post here […]

Posted by “Can an ‘untouchable’ become India’s Obama?” | southasia@york | Report as abusive

Hi all,

I write this from USA. Never compare Obama with Mayawathi. What is Obama’s credentials and education. He got top class education from Harvard and Columbia University. Nobody against Dalit becoming prime minister, if they have all qualifications. Unfortunately in India, qualification matters last (ex. Deve Gowda). That is the status of Indian politics.

Kandy from USA.

Posted by kandy | Report as abusive

This is a dirty politics scenario to talk about a caste in India. Do not relate it to touchable or untouchable.

It was very sad after 15th August 1947, Indian leadership always in the wrong hand. Indian ministers and bureaucrats (police) still behave as British ruler. Indian people hated the attitude of the British ruler and they started to fight with them. But after independence same people started to rule India in the same way of the British ruler. Again these politicians started to rule India with the “Divide and rule” policy. “My caste is same with you, give me your vote.” “I am from North or I am from Maharashtra or I am from South.” Such attitude of Indian politician is harmful for India. We never fulfill Subash Chandra Bose’s or Gandhi’s dream. Although both leaders have different way but their target was the same. Let us build a strong India.

Posted by A.Y. | Report as abusive

Why Not?
The Brahmin-Bania nexus in this babudom prevent quick transformation of the Indian Society. If investments are not coming to UP it is surely because of Mayawati’s caste and not because of her.
The real powers are working to defame her and her caste.As if the other leadres from other castes are Harvard educated and have a clue to solve the problems of indians.In fact they are the problems.
To those agreeing to the comments of virile people like Viwanath i have a proposition.Let this country be divided politically(socially it is so already)into four parts and give the choice to choose which part they would like to move into.Say, All Brahmin, All Bania,All Kshatriya & All Dalit states .I would welcome such a move by the government/people through a referundum.How is it?

Posted by arumbhu | Report as abusive

We need a well educated leader who can represent us on an international platform as well. Manmohan Singh and APJ Abdul Kalam have done inspiring work.
Why we do not look at Rahul Gandhi or Sachin Pilot as our future leaders. What do you notice in Mayawati’s personality that makes her a leader of our nation? It would be the most unfortunate day for me as an Indian if she is the one who leads the country. Education, personality and leadership qualities are most important. When a leader say our President Pratibha Patil meets international leaders some day with a saree palla on her head.. what image of India is she showing to the world? Would not people abroad think that we are still backward?
And Mayawati would only add to us being called more backward!

Posted by A.K | Report as abusive

When tsunami strikes it doesn’t differentiate between people.Let the born-again people brave a tsunami with prayers in their mouth.
This caste system has condemned billions of people and
their histories stolen.If, as we hear ‘curses’ work how
many tons of ‘curses’ could have been heaped on this
country and what a devastating effect that could have been(should have been)?!
This country(for that matter the world) is mostly run by a bunch of criminals (by their chosen path of governance
with its known levels of corruption)and we are only meek spectators to the jokes that are being played by these idiotic criminals.
Favourable conditions help even a fool to succeed and unfavourable conditions makes it difficult for even a brilliant man to fail.This is more so in this country and thats why indians fare better outside than in india.
What’s the point in blaming an individual?
The greatest intelligent brains of these country have failed miserably in the past on many occassions and they will do so again. Let’s not limit the possibilities by our narrow approach.

Posted by arumbhu | Report as abusive

I do not know where this guy is coming from, and how well he understands the Indian society and culture and to be very honest I am not even interested in knowing that.But I think there is one thing that he should know that just because you belong to a upper caste and lower caste does not gives you the liberty to get elected as PM of a country like India.One should deserve it and then Color,Religion and Caste does not matters.

Posted by Malay | Report as abusive

WELL WRITTEN ALISTAIR SCRUTTON , please write more such good articles/blogs on Mayawati and you will see that there are far number of people in India who will support it.

You will also see few upper caste people like here above who would not support and would try to discourage you.

The Reality is different from what you see in these people’s comments i.e MAYAWATI IS DEFINETELY GOING TO BE INDIAN OBAMA VERY SOON.

Posted by Prashant | Report as abusive

The question is not the quality of leadership.If it is so then I personally would like to see a Clinton,Putin or even a Chinese ruling this country.Globalization.Straight forward.Why should i be burdened with Yadavs,Jayalalithas,Advanis,Deshmukhs etc…,etc.,,
Acceptability of leaders from different groups is being debated in this country.If my choice is not acceptable to you just because of colour & creed(real reasons for denigrating Mayavati)then your choice is not acceptable to me. Mayavati is more suitable than a Mulayam or a Rajnath who are in fact lifted up and sustained by the Powerful ruling class groups of the feudalistic India.
If statues are also not toleratyed because they serve no purpose then all the statues of this country including the religious ones must be thrown into the rivers.What do they serve? Except promoting and sustaining divisions in the country?
Surely and slowly Change is coming to India. Unstoppable.One may try to delay but cannot stop.The sooner the better for the society.
I have a dream.When this entire race becomes one and the world parliament gets established somewhere anybody could become the elected/accepted President of the United States of Earth.NO nationalities only statehoods.Reality.
Are we prepared for such a scenario?

Posted by arumbhu | Report as abusive

[November 7th, 2008 9:12 pm GMT Posted by Patrick ”If you all don’t think Obamamania started because he was different from the average candidate, then you are greatly mistaken. He was virtually unknown until this election, and media “Politically-Correct” spin has placed him where he is. If Obama was not black, do you really think he would be in the white house? ”]

Hey Patrick, you IDIOT, you must be a Repugnant – –

Posted by BS BUSTER | Report as abusive

If Obama was not black, do you really think he would be in the white house?

Yes I do Patrick! JFK did! What makes you think Obama won because he was black?!! He won because he was the better candidate! duh!

Posted by Neethu | Report as abusive