The demise of Ram Vilas Paswan prompted a reflection on Dalit politics and the vicissitudes it was subject to not just in Bihar, his home state, but in the heartland. The evolution of a political consciousness among the Dalits of north India was gradual. It was inspired by the ideals of Dr BR Ambedkar, the symbolism embodied in mythological and real-life icons such as Sant Ravidas, Shambuka, Eklavya, Raja Suheldev, Uda Devi and Jhalkaribai who created an alternative pantheon of deities, and the philosophy, pragmatism and advocacy of Kanshi Ram, who founded the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP). Unlike Maharashtra and Kerala, where Dalit politics was inextricably conjoined with reformist zeal and a push to reorder the varna system, in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, power politics was at the heart of it.
Power politics is a potent instrument for reparation, an agency to raise and set right the legitimate interests and privileges of those castes and sub-castes that lay at the bottom of the social heap for centuries. However, wielded by overly ambitious leaders and influence-peddlers, it becomes a travesty of its original idealistic form. Unfortunately, Dalit politics in Maharashtra, the fount, ran the course from idealism to cynicism while it is a matter of debate if the variants in north India ever had an element of high-mindedness. When Ramdas Athavale, presently a Central minister helming a splinter group of the Republican Party of India, teamed up with the BJP-Shiv Sena alliance before the local polls of 2012 in Maharashtra, it took a slogan, ‘Bhim Shakti-Shiv Shakti’, to flash the union of antagonistic ideologies and irreconcilable social interests. Namdeo Dhasal, an influential Dalit poet and activist, endorsed the alliance on the ground that it would help the Scheduled Castes unshackle themselves from the Congress and ‘build a new Maharashtra’. It seemed as though any rationale was worthy to validate expediency. Harish S Wankhede, who teaches Political Studies at JNU, summed up the fallout of the alliance as a loss of the ‘political ideology of the oppressed’. In an article in the Economic and Political Weekly, Wankhede wrote, “The recourse to ‘alliance politics’ overtly represents the myopic view of the Dalit leadership which is strategising mainly to remain viable in the political scenario of Maharashtra without bothering about the principal ideals of the Dalit movement.”
Transpose Wankhede’s prognosis of the Maharashtra scenario to Bihar and UP, and you might find clues to read the state of Dalit politics in the heartland. It was not as though the Dalit leaders were oblivious to the condition of the castes they represented in electoral politics. They did not come out of a rarefied environment. They suffered the ravages inflicted by an upper caste-dominated establishment and fought hard to get themselves education and work.
It was not as though they did not flag pressing issues and leverage their clout in Parliament, the assemblies and local councils to seek statutory solutions and amend the social imbalances. But there was just this much they could do, whether it was Paswan, Kanshi Ram and his protégé, Mayawati. Paswan was part of the socialist formations in one avatar or another, until he launched his Lok Janshakti Party (LJP) in 2000. Mayawati inherited the BSP legacy from Ram but twisted its original character somewhat unrecognisably although she professedly remained true to Ram’s founding principles. The pursuit of electoral politics first entailed seeking a place in the shifting sands of heartland caste equations and then doing business with the ‘mainstream’ parties to claim a share of the power pie. North Indian social and economic dynamics as well as personal angularities denied Dalit leaders the opportunity to emerge as leaders in their own right with Mayawati being an exception for a while in UP.
Their means were limited, they had to sort out their priorities that invariably demanded ‘compromises’. Striking bargains, clinching negotiations to extract ‘good’ deals and forsaking ‘principles’ (or what existed of the principles) laid the Dalit leaders bare to the charge of being ‘opportunistic’ and ‘self-centred’. What is ‘Chanakya niti’ to a savarna politician becomes ‘opportunism’ for his Dalit counterpart. It’s about viewing politics through historically tinged prisms that dignifies the same strategy in one case and disparages it in another.
Paswan belonged to the upper layer of the Dalits, the Dusadh or Paswan sub-caste. Although he said he was influenced by Maharashtra’s Dalit Panthers movement, he was cramped by circumstances in Bihar where a Dalit politician had to get a ‘good deal’ from the mainstream parties to survive well: either in office or the Opposition, draw out seats in a pre-poll alliance, haggle for space in the government and barter away his caste votes to seal a ‘good deal’.
Paswan did well for himself and his family, given the limitations. Before the ’80s and the dawning of the era of social justice and empowerment of the marginalised castes, the Naxalite movement was a vehicle of Dalit assertion in Bihar. It drew a large number of landless peasants who, in their struggle for land rights, were attacked by the landed castes but felt confident enough to answer in kind with the backing of the Naxalites. The emergence and rise of Lalu Prasad transformed the idiom and nature of Dalit politics: from land, the concerns shifted to reservation and social justice. Paswan espoused the Mandal Commission’s recommendations for statutory reservation to the Other Backward Classes (OBC) with passion, knowing the inherent contradictions on the ground between the OBC and the Dalits. His last significant intervention was to pressure the Narendra Modi government to restore the original provisions of the SC/ST Act after the Court sought to dilute it, ruling that no immediate arrests could be done if the Act was violated. The court’s ruling made Dalits more vulnerable because despite the Act’s stringent provisions, it is rarely implemented in letter and spirit except in UP when Mayawati was the CM between 2007 and 2012.
If Mayawati winded down a successful career with a preoccupation with her financial tangles, the departure of powerful loyalists and the fear of being snagged by enforcement authorities, Paswan’s innings were marked by an ability to switch sides without blinking, getting a ministry and seamlessly initiating his son, Chirag, into politics. Paswan and Mayawati did not take Dalit politics to another level because in both cases, the distinction between the political and the personal was blurred. In the old feudal style, their latter-day agenda was about nurturing an heir apparent. Chirag in Paswan’s case and Akash Anand, Mayawati’s nephew, who’s being groomed to ‘inherit’ the BSP. Mayawati did not visit Hathras, where a young Passi woman was raped and murdered. Her family is being hounded by the UP establishment, but there’s not a squeak from the BSP president.
Dalit politics in the heartland is about winning as many seats that can give the leader the latitude to barter away his or her support in lieu of a ‘favourable’ contract. That’s what Chirag aims to do in the Bihar elections. The senior Paswan walked out of the Atal Bihari Vajpayee-led NDA in protest against the 2002 Gujarat violence. In 2014, he happily walked in when the same coalition was headed by Modi. Ideology, anyone?
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US vetted stars' politics to showcase Trump virus response – Toronto Star
WASHINGTON – Public relations firms hired by the Department of Health and Human Services vetted political views of hundreds of celebrities for a planned $250 million ad blitz aimed at portraying President Donald Trump’s response to the coronavirus outbreak in a positive light, according to documents released Thursday by a House committee.
A political appointee at the department suggested creating a government-funded campaign to rival the World War II icon Rosie the Riveter, according to the documents, and taglines like “Helping the President will Help the Country.”
None of the celebrities agreed to participate — they may not have known they were being vetted — and the campaign has been put on hold.
Director Judd Apatow believes Trump “does not have the intellectual capacity to run as president,” according to a list of more than 200 celebrities compiled by one of the firms. Singer Christina Aguilera “is an Obama-supporting Democrat and a gay-rights supporting liberal,” the list says, and actor Jack Black is “known to be a classic Hollywood liberal.” A public service announcement by comedian George Lopez was “not moving forward due to previous concerns regarding his comments regarding the president,” according to the documents.
The names were among the spreadsheets, memos, notes and other documents from September and October released by the House Oversight and Reform Committee.
The firms’ vetting came as political appointees planned to spend more than $250 million on a confidence-building campaign surrounding the virus, which has killed more than 227,000 people in the United States and is a core issue in the presidential race between Trump and Democrat Joe Biden.
While government public health campaigns are routine, the ad blitz planned by HHS was mired from the start by involvement from department spokesman Michael Caputo, a fierce loyalist and friend of Trump with little experience in the field. In September, a spokesman for Caputo said he was taking a medical leave from HHS as he battled cancer.
Trump, a Republican, has repeatedly minimized the dangers of the coronavirus, even as the nation is in its third wave of infections, with tens of thousands of cases reported each day.
According to one memo compiled by a subcontractor to Atlas Research, one of the firms hired by HHS, Caputo suggested a series of soundbites and taglines for the campaign, including “Helping the President will Help the Country.” The notes say that Caputo wanted the campaign to be “remarkable” and to rival Rosie the Riveter, the character who symbolized women who worked in factories and shipyards during World War II against Germany.
“For us, the ‘enemy’ is the virus,” Caputo said, according to the memo.
The documents also show pushback from some of the federal employees leading the work, who removed Caputo from an email chain and thanked one of the contractors for dealing with a “challenging” environment.
The Democrat-led Oversight panel said Caputo was overstepping his bounds, interfering in work that is supposed to be done by contract officers at the department and politicizing what is supposed to be nonpartisan.
“Of course, it is completely inappropriate to frame a taxpayer-funded ad campaign around ‘helping’ President Trump in the weeks and days before the election,” said House Oversight Chairwoman Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., and Reps. James Clyburn of South Carolina and Raja Krishnamoorthi of Illinois, both subcommittee chairmen, in a letter to HHS Secretary Alex Azar. “This theme also ignores the reality that more than 220,000 Americans have died from coronavirus — a fact that should not be whitewashed in a legitimate public health message.”
Azar put the entire project on hold earlier this month, telling the Oversight subcommittee led by Clyburn that it was being investigated internally.
“I have ordered a strategic review of this public health education campaign that will be led by our top public health and communications experts to determine whether the campaign serves important public health purposes,” Azar told the subcommittee, which is investigating the federal government’s response to the coronavirus outbreak.
Because public health policy around the coronavirus pandemic has become so politically polarized, it’s unclear how well a confidence-building campaign from the government would play.
HHS officials acknowledge a major challenge to any campaign would involve finding trusted intermediaries to make the pitch to average Americans. On health care matters, people usually trust doctors first, not necessarily celebrities. And Trump has alienated much of the medical establishment with his dismissive comments about basic public health measures, such as wearing masks.
The 34-page “PSA Celebrity Tracker” compiled by Atlas Research and released by the committee does not say whether the celebrities were aware they were even being considered or if they had agreed to participate. The report says that no celebrities are now affiliated with the project but a handful did initially agree to participate.
Singer Marc Antony, who has been critical of Trump, pulled out after seeking an amendment to his contract to “ensure that his content would not be used for advertisements to re-elect President Trump.”
Actor Dennis Quaid also initially agreed and then pulled out, according to a document from Atlas Research. In an Instagram video post last month titled “No good deed goes unpoliticized,” Quaid said he was frustrated that a taped interview he did with Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious-disease expert, for the campaign was portrayed in the media as an endorsement of Trump.
“Nothing could be further from the truth,” Quaid said, noting that the interview was still available on his podcast.
Antony and Quaid were among just a few celebrities who were approved for the campaign, according to the documents. Others included TV health commentator Dr. Oz and singer Billy Ray Cyrus.
“Spokespeople for public service campaigns should be chosen on their ability to reach the target audience, not their political affiliation,” the letter from the Democrats reads. “Yet, documents produced by the contractors indicate that the Trump Administration vetted spokespeople based on their political positions and whether they support President Trump.”
Associated Press writer Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar contributed to this report.
Political tide changing slowly as Sask. elects more new moms – Regina Leader-Post
Article content continued
Men are often not held responsible for caring duties, said Thomas. She points to New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, who “very explicitly” told the public her child’s father is caring for the baby while she works.
“Men just know that they’re not going to be held responsible for the caring duties,” added Thomas. “I think one of the ways you could address this is by having more new moms, in particular, in positions where they can expect legislatures to act on this stuff.”
Just as Young video-conferenced with her colleagues from the hospital, elected representatives could do their work remotely when being physically present is an issue.
Thomas said she could see the argument of internet quality being insufficient in rural and remote locations to allow this.
But, she added, “Elected representatives are uniquely placed to write and pass the policy that would solve that problem and look at telecommunications … as a public utility that every Canadian has the right to access.”
Members could attend remote committee meetings, where the “in-depth heavy lifting” occurs.
In British Parliament, said Thomas, “Remote debate was actually more substantive because things like heckling didn’t work so well. I would put it to the average person, would you be OK with less heckling and other partisan nonsense and posturing in politics? Because I would.”
Parents of young children could be given a top-up to hire more staff — as is done in widespread, rural and remote constituencies.
And, childcare should be required at Legislatures during members’ working hours, which means day and night. That must also include infant care, said Thomas: “The Parliament Hill (daycare) doesn’t take infants and that’s created problems for Members of Parliament who were breastfeeding.”
As new moms running for political office, Young, Sarauer and Conway should pave the way to inspire others.
“Women in general, but especially girls are much more interested in politics when they see women doing politics, and this is internationally verified across democracies,” said Thomas.
Their presence “communicate(s) that those political institutions are for them too. The caveat though is going to be how the legislature responds to having women with infants or parents with infants in the legislature.”
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