On a hot Tuesday afternoon, I walked into the recently reopened Dalit park in Noida, outside New Delhi. This is the park built by Mayawati, the 57-year-old former chief minister of Uttar Pradesh, as a memorial to the class of people long known in India as “untouchables.” A Dalit herself, Mayawati is a symbol of what traditionally oppressed classes and castes in India can do with their lives.
By Annie Banerji
While the government of India announced austerity measures in July to rationalise its expenditure in an attempt to meet its fiscal deficit target, the chief minister of the northern state of Uttar Pradesh didn’t seem to get the message.
Every powerful politician deliberates their legacy. For Mayawati, the chief minister of Uttar Pradesh state and one of the country’s most recognizable politicians, hers will be set in stone.
Universal Studios has shelved plans to shoot “Indian Summer”, a film based on the lives of Jawaharlal Nehru and Edwina Mountbatten.(UPDATE: On Friday, a studio spokesman was quoted as saying “Indian Summer” is continuing to be developed but will not go into production until the script, budget and cast are all in place)Filmmaker Joe Wright, who was slated to direct the project, was quoted as saying there were creative differences between the studio and the Indian government.Many people are not comfortable with national leaders being portrayed on celluloid in any way other than flattering.Most leaders are interpreted by their followers in a particular manner. Any alternative recounting especially on celluloid runs into controversy.Biopics of leaders are few and far between in Bollywood in spite of it being a vibrantly political and prolific film industry.Some say the Indian masses tend to deify their leaders and hence are less receptive to anything critical.And celluloid is a mass medium more than any book on history ever can be.In Pakistan, the movie “Jinnah” starring Christopher Lee and sanctioned by the Pakistan government had also run into controversy.But does public policy also contribute to this state of affairs?The Indian Express says in a report that ministries don’t transfer records to National Archives “which leaves modern, democratic India’s history shrouded in secrecy”.Does this contribute to a lack of public discussion on various facets of our leaders’ lives and policies and therefore an intolerance of alternative readings?As for the movie “Indian Summer”, the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting was to appoint a liaison officer to ensure the movie did not deviate from the approved script.Is imposing a government-sanctioned memory of events on people any different from Mayawati’s efforts to erect statues to herself?
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is not contesting elections to the Lok Sabha, the lower and popular house of parliament.This is for reasons of health and also because the constitution permits the prime minister to be a member of either of the two houses of parliament.Like Singh, we have had prime ministers from the Rajya Sabha earlier but they sought to get elected to the lower house and succeeded easily.As the de facto head of the government, the prime minister is expected to earn people’s approval directly.Mayawati recently took a dig at Singh over the issue.”This Manmohan Singh has not contested any public election…he was brought back door in Rajya Sabha and made prime minister,” the Bahujan Samaj Party chief said at an election rally.”If Manmohan can become PM, why can’t an educated Dalit woman.”This is possibly the first instance in Indian politics where the sitting prime minister has decided to stay away from the race.But should India’s prime minister be a member of the Lok Sabha?The opposition, after initially trying to make it a poll issue, now seems to have lost the plot.The question keeps popping up on internet discussion boards.FOR– Those who support the idea of a prime minister from the lower house say that a popular vote marks acceptability by the people as compared to someone nominated to the Rajya Sabha.– Such a person having earned the people’s mandate is seen as less susceptible to manipulation.– A person’s performance as an MP is seen as a necessary test of his competence and claim to the top job.– Some even suggest that a prime ministerial candidate should seek election with a pre-announced team, something like the shadow cabinet system in Britain.AGAINST– The most convincing argument against the idea is that the constitution puts no such caveat.– The upper house is seen as a talent pool where competent candidates are sent after consideration. This compensates for impulsive behavior of voters which can sometimes make “good” candidates unelectable. For example, Manmohan Singh lost the 1999 Lok Sabha election from the posh South Delhi constituency.– It is also felt that any prime minister would work according to the party’s ideology, membership of a house being irrelevant to his policies and performance.– Moreover, the prime minister is in any case indirectly elected (by the party MPs), so the argument of his having greater acceptance may not cut much ice.– Some feel that if the person is a representative of the majority party and competent then nothing else should count. Others say the proposal calls into question the very rationale of having an upper house, and therefore, needs to be fleshed out.One comment on the online forum points to the question being a moral rather than a legal one.There are two facts to bear in mind.In the Westminster system of democracy, a prime minister from the upper house would be an anachronism.Secondly, the constitution review commission recognised the lower house’s pre-eminence in its recommendation that the prime minister be directly elected by the house in the event of a hung poll verdict.As for the practical aspect, the Congress is contesting around 400 seats in these elections, and finding a safe seat for a politician like Manmohan Singh, the sitting prime minister, should have been easy.In March, opposition leader L.K. Advani raised the issue at an election rally.”Singh will be more acceptable to the people of India if he decides to fight the elections and go to the Lok Sabha,” he said.Did Advani have a valid point?
Much has been written about Bahujan Samaj Party chief Mayawati’s inventive politics that saw her forging an unlikely alliance between Dalits and Brahmins — from the two ends of the Hindu caste spectrum — to win an election in Uttar Pradesh in 2007.