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The Indian Obama & the American Mayawati

Friday, 25 July 2008 - 9:57pm IST

Barack Obama and Kumari Mayawati have a lot in common. One is a Black politician who represents the great liberal hope in the US.

Why are Mayawati and Obama so popular with the liberal elites in India and the US?

Barack Obama and Kumari Mayawati have a lot in common. One is a Black politician who represents the great liberal hope in the US. The other is poised to usher in a new political order where the oppressed castes will finally get their due in a polity traditionally dominated by upper castes.

Or so we are told. If one day either of them assumes the mantle of the highest executive post in their country, it will mark a victory for democracy, with historically marginalised minorities finally getting their turn at the helm of power. Really?

It is interesting is to see where all these claims are coming from. In America, Obama's biggest admirers, especially in the media, are Whites. In India, those who speak earnestly about Mayawati as a future prime minister are all upper caste commentators.

If we look closely at the careers of both these politicians, what becomes amply clear is their eagerness to barter principle for power. Obama has done flip-flops on every issue that he has ever issued a statement on - from Iraq, to Palestine to healthcare, to the sources of his own campaign funds.

And everyone knows that Mayawati offers election tickets to the highest bidder. Poor Dalit party workers have been known to lose out to rich Thakurs who are willing pay for a BSP ticket. She knows that she has to broad-base her appeal beyond that of the Dalit vote bank and is therefore willing to abandon the legacy of Ambedkarite anger against the upper castes - the anger which has been the engine of the Dalit political movement in India.

Today, she is well set to become the insurance policy for the upper castes and OBCs against Dalit revival. And they are all queuing up to pay hefty premiums. Clearly, her disproportionate assets - alleged to be $2.4 million in property and $1.2 million in bank accounts - couldn't all have been 'gifted' to her, as she claims, by her poor Dalit followers.

And in a system of democracy where money rules, as was demonstrated in the trust vote earlier this week, it would be silly to expect that Mayawati would be any different from the rest simply because she happens to inhabit the identity of a Dalit.

The picture is even starker in the case of Obama. Investigative journalist John Pilger has pointed out that for a man who began by claiming that his campaign funds came from small individual donations, his biggest donors are Wall Street giants such as Goldman Sachs, Lehman Brothers, JPMorgan Chase, Citigroup, and Morgan Stanley.

The top five donors for Obama's campaign are registered corporate lobbyists. The world loves to see Obama as a kind of anti-Bush. But it is evident that Bush's best friend - big business - loves Obama. It would therefore be foolhardy to expect Obama to be much different from Bush. Especially in the domain that concerns the rest of the world - foreign policy. The concept of "American interests" which dictates US foreign policy is also marked by what they call "bipartisanship".

Which basically means that it makes no difference to the foreign policy whether you are a Democrat or a Republican - you just do what the lobbyists tell you is in "America's interests". After all, they didn't pour money into your campaign out of unconditional love. Those who think of Bush as an anomaly of a war-mongering Republican would do well to remember the Democratic tradition of war-mongering Presidents - Bill Clinton, Jimmy Carter, John Kennedy, Lyndon Jonhson, Harry Truman.

In fact, with Obama the signs are there for anyone to see if only they're willing to look and listen. The first shocker came when he said, at a conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (Aipac), the powerful Zionist lobby, that he supported an "undivided" Jerusalem as Israel's capital - while even the Bush regime recognises Jerusalem as an international city. Then came his prevarication on Iraq - from calling for immediate troop withdrawal, he is now saying he will have to consult his commanders on the ground - exactly what Bush has been saying.

What is revealing is that Obama has been as attractive for big white business in the US as Mayawati has been to the wealthy upper castes/OBCs in India. Though the political contexts are different, the logic of their appeal is essentially the same: in an electoral democracy with a history of discrimination - racist in one case and casteist in another - both represent the progressive face of an oppressed minority.

They are convenient shields manufactured out of the very fabric of social justice. And now they can be deployed by the reigning power elites to deflect opposition and resistance. How much easier is it going to get for a progressive, politically correct liberal to attack a Dalit or a Black for continuing with policies that widen social disparity? In India, upper caste commentators are cautious even when it comes to pulling up Mayawati for her dazzling corruption.

Her most trenchant critics have been Dalit writers, who have pointed out that her 'primitive' accumulation and ostentatious display of wealth has made little material difference to the Dalit poor in UP. In the US, anti-war groups will find it trickier to attack a 'Black Hawk', as it were.

In both India and the US, it is the 'capital-intensive', media-orchestrated system of democracy that rules, and only those who can obey that system and work it to their advantage, as Obama and Mayawati are doing, can rise to the top. To expect 'real change' from them is wishful thinking.

A genuine change in the political power structure will come only when this system itself is challenged. The Mayawatis and Obamas of the world are neither interested in, nor capable of that. And the liberal establishment loves them precisely because they pose no threat to the status quo.







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