Will an “untouchable” become India’s Obama?
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.
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
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?