The Kanshi Ram that Mayawati kept alive

That the funeral rites of Kanshi Ram should get embroiled in controversy is no surprise. I’d say he has been among the most under-rated leaders in India. In a society where caste matters, his Bahujan Samaj Party was meant for those who to this day have to go through the ignominy of being called ‘lower caste’ and ‘untouchable’ in some parts of rural India.

He became a Dalit, like many such ‘backward class’ people do. To stick one’s neck out in a place where politics is gossip, appetizer and a dose of nashaa, was indeed a bold move. Uttar Pradesh has always been a thakur/dacoit/local mafia domain.

Kanshi Ram changed all that. There were taller leaders than him, but they went the route of national politics. He stayed put in the vast expanse of UP. And then he introduced Mayawati. There is no doubt that he groomed her and pushed her in the forefront, and in an atmosphere where hypocrisy prevails, these two broke all those barriers to openly live together without engaging in any discussions on the subject.

Mayawati has had to bear a lot of flak, some of it well-deserved. She is a shrill woman, power-hungry, making use of her position to start completely faulty projects. On one of my visits to Lucknow when she was the chief minister, there was this horrendous Ambedkar park project with the leader’s statue on a granite platform.

She is wrong on many counts. But how worse is she than other leaders? Mulayam is a shrewd little man. While Mayawati can rightly be blamed for initiating the Taj corridor project, he has been giving away precious farmer’s land to Reliance for a pittance. He went about preening as ‘Maulana Mulayam’ but he will ditch any cause to become ’Mahant Mulayam’. He has his hangers-on, notably Amar Singh, who is a useless, media crazy man. He spends time doling out Rajya Sabha tickets and other sops to celebrities. Mulayam Singh is today Amitabh Bachchan’s devta. Why? Mr. Bachchan lives in Mumbai, has loads of money and fame. Why does a politician in another state become his god? One is aware that god is omnipotent etc, but faith has got to have some basis.

Mayawati has to work with these people around. They say she kept Kanshi Ram in captivity. Even if she did, he was terribly ill when we saw him on a TV programme. I think she kept the myth alive. But being a single woman in a place where you find shops selling arms openly in the bazaars she had to be attributed with dire motives. No politician works without motives, but the gender factor did come in here.

To make matters a bit more difficult, unlike Jayalalitha she does not have a convent accent and her guru was not a dead film star. She lacks glamour and speaks for those who are voiceless. Kanshi Ram saw the spark in her and she retained it and the memory of the man.

She is certainly not the best thing around, but to keep the wolves at bay we cannot have little Red Riding Hoods lost in the woods.

She will now be faced with Kanshi Ram’s ghost by those who didn’t give a damn about him. It is time we accepted that a person – and a woman too – has an individual style of functioning. Her tribute to her mentor will be to shut the mouths of the naysayers and truly work for those who have no say and have no right of way…

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