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Mute your TV, listen to the feeble voice that’s just made poll history

Saturday 12 May 2007, by YADAV*Yogendra

New Delhi, May 11: You have to mute your TV to listen to this strange, feeble voice. Strange, for it speaks a language that you and I may easily misrecognise, just as foreigners misinterpret the grammar of Indian English. And feeble, for it’s spoken by those who are not used to being heard, a voice struggling to believe in itself. You have to listen to this mythical entity called The Ordinary Voter of Uttar Pradesh who spoke today through a strange electronic device. You have to mute your TV to save this voice from being drowned in the din of screaming headlines, loud claims and instant interpretations.

This is not a narrow-minded, bigoted, casteist voice, though it is refracted through the prism of caste. Thus, it would be a serious mistake to read BSP’s historic win as merely stitching together of a Dalit-Brahmin alliance. For one thing, the BSP did manage to get additional votes across all the non-Dalit castes. It got more votes among the lower and peasant OBCs and among Muslims than it did among Brahmins. Second, as in the case of Lalu Prasad Yadav, Mayawati managed to appeal to poor voters across the caste divide.

Above all, the BSP’s voters were not voting their caste — they were indeed casting their vote on the basis of issues that mattered most to them. It’s just that the information they received was deeply conditioned by which caste they belonged to, as did their frames of assessing that information. This was true not just of the BSP and its voters. This election was about all the leading contenders trying to break through limits of caste-based vote banks and making broader, cross-sectional appeal. This is not a voice of rage, disgust or rejection. There is little evidence to suggest that this was principally a negative vote against Mulayam’s evidently unpopular government. The information available so far suggests that SP’s vote share has actually increased since 2002, while its seats tally has been slashed. This was not a mild or strong case of routine anti-incumbency. A swing of nearly 7 per cent vote for the BSP is a positive voice of hope.

It is a voice that demands what we call development. But it does not necessarily speak the language of infrastructure, investment and growth. Nor is this vote for the BSP just about the other BSP of Indian politics—bijli, sadak, pani. This is about well-being understood in the broadest sense of the term. It is about livelihood, security and dignity. The aam aurat of UP looks up to the government to provide for these — and trusts Mayawati more than anyone else to deliver this.

In a strange way, this voice has an ideological tone though it does not fit into our standard ideological boxes. This rejection of BJP is not driven by “secularism.” The voters were neither attracted nor disgusted by the CD episode, they just ignored it. Nor is it a self-conscious belief in the ideology of egalitarianism. This is a voice of the marginalised, waiting to be recognized, seeking self-respect and wanting its long denied share of power. This voice has found a symbol to invest its hopes, to bring coherence to its blurred vision and to discover its own strength. Her name is Mayawati.

When a future historian revisits this extraordinary day in Indian democracy, he may feel that the person attached to that name did not fit all those descriptions. But he may also record that the feeble voice that sought to speak through Mayawati was the very own distinctive voice of Indian democracy. He would be grateful that you muted your TV.

See online : The Indian Express


Yadav is Senior Fellow at the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies. He led the team which conducted The Indian Express-CNN-IBN-CSDS poll in Uttar Pradesh.

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