The Edifice Complex

By Shivam Vij

First published in Open dated 4 April 2009

On a Friday evening, Ajay Kumar Singh has driven his family to a tourist spot in Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh. It is quite some spot, this. It is not a relic of the Awadh Nawabs or the British Raj; it is a statue of UP Chief Minister Mayawati alongside that of Kanshi Ram, founder of the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP). On the other side of the road are similar gargantuan statues of Bheem Rao Ambedkar and his wife Ramabai. Singh is visiting the Samajik Parivartan Prateek Sthal or the ‘Site of the Symbol of Social Change’. Continue reading “The Edifice Complex”

The Elephant Charge

By Shivam Vij

First published in Tehelka issue dated 26 May 2007

You may have seen him on television on May 11, blue gulal all over his bearded, happy face and brand new kurta, dancing more for the television cameras than to the beat of the dholaks. Sobran Pal knew this was the right time for some publicity. This was his moment as much as it was the Bahujan Samaj Party’s, and although Pal had not been given a ticket he is instrumental for the BSP’s strategy to win over the Pals, an intermediate obc caste, not just in Uttar Pradesh but all over India. Based in Jalaun near Jhansi, he is also the vice president of the Uttar Pradesh Pal-Baghel Samaj, one of hundreds of such caste-based organisations across India.

What attracted Pal to politics and the BSP is exactly what Kanshi Ram had once told Mayawati to convince her to join politics: instead of trying to become a civil servant, she could rule over hundreds of civil servants. There are a few good reasons why workers like Pal are so central to the BSP’s historic victory in Uttar Pradesh’s 15th Vidhan Sabha elections. Like him, there are many workers who convince members of their caste to vote for the BSP. This stems from the BSP’s realisation that caste is the basic unit of Indian society. This idea is as central to the party’s Sarvajan Samaj strategy as it was to its Bahujan Samaj ideology. Continue reading “The Elephant Charge”