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HomeOpinionsWhy the conversion talk of Mayawati is just a mere political stunt

Why the conversion talk of Mayawati is just a mere political stunt

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Jai prakash Ojha
Jai prakash Ojha
The author works with IGNOU as Assistant Registrar. He frequently blogs/writes articles on social and political subjects. A post graduate in Personnel Management and Industrial Relations, he also holds a post graduate diploma in Journalism and Mass Communication. He may contacted on [email protected] Read his articles on ojhajp.blogspot,com

Political marginalization has pushed the BSP supremo Mayawati into oblivion. Her threat to convert into Buddhism if BJP does not change its attitude towards the lower castes and minorities is a desperate act of frustration to stay relevant in Indian politics and grab some media bytes. The boundaries of Hinduism are porous; anyone can move in or move out; the constitution gives her the right to change her religion if she wants. Does she expect the Shankaracharya to come to her with folded hands and beg her to stay within the fold of Hinduism?

I think Hinduism would be better off without pseudo Hindus who miss no opportunity to defame and malign Hindu culture and religion without looking inwards at their own selves. Religion is a matter of faith and conviction; it’s not a tool to hit at others and resort to blackmail as some hyper rabid Dalit activists are doing. Ambedkar converted into Buddhism in 1956 along with thousands of his followers in the hope that this would provide an alternate religio- spiritual platform to the Dalits, separate and distinct from Hinduism but the moot point is, has this happened?

Despite all the ostentation and pretensions, the phenomenon of Dalit conversions to Buddhism has not even led to a slight change in the religious demographic profile of the Dalits. According to 2011 census, Buddhists constitute a mere 0.7 percent of the population. As Dalits constitute 16-18 percent of the population, it can be safely assumed that more than 90 percent of the Dalit population is practicing Hindus. The phenomenon of religio-cultural assertion of the Dalits has till now remained very much a myth.

Hindu critics have long argued that efforts to convert Hindus into Ambedkarite Buddhists are mere political stunts rather than sincere attempts to social reform or commitment to the principles of Lord Buddha. They further argue that the sectarian agenda of Dalit activism and leadership has reduced its ability to enter into a meaningful dialogue with other social communities in order to fast track reforms. Their cultural warfare against Hinduism and denigration of Hindu religion and sacred scriptures has widened the schism between the Dalit and the non Dalit communities. The conversion of Dalits into Buddhism has nothing to do with their faith or conviction but a sheer act of frustration and desperation whose only aim is to extract concessions from the state.

While examining the contemporary Buddhist movement, it can be deduced that the movement is highly restrictive, limited and mainly found in urban corridors with a fair sprinkling of neo Buddhist population. The Buddhist social activities are limited to creation of Ambedkarite symbols and displaying them at public places and socio cultural gatherings. Such events no doubt create social capital but generally they have ritualistic value and nothing more. The audience is narrow and the caste Hindus keep themselves aloof from these events. The neo Buddhist movement has so far failed to develop a strong social strategy by which the non Dalits can integrate and become partners in the social revolution project. Even in Maharashtra, Buddhism has remained confined only to the Mahar community and other Dalit communities like Matangs, Mangs and Mehtars have kept themselves segregated from the movement. Moreover, over assertion of Dalit Buddhist culture has made other communities, hostile towards the movement and as a natural corollary, the Dalits have been politically pushed to the periphery in the state.

Dalits have to realize that more than the religio–cultural fight; it is the political fight that would provide them chances to do what they want in the cultural sphere provided they come to power. When it comes to culture and religion, a significant percentage of the Shudra castes will be more comfortable standing along with the caste Hindus, isolating the Dalits further. Mayawati is a tall politician. She knows the pitfalls of converting to Buddhism. She rode to power in UP, not on the plank of religio cultural assertion but on the high voltage political mobilization of Jatavs most of who are Hindus and alliances with the caste Hindus. Dalits have converted to Islam, Sikhism and Christianity but this has hardly made a difference to their lives. The caste factor is very much there in these religions though publicly, no one likes to acknowledge. Conversions can have disastrous effects of the de-politicization of Dalit communities as we can see in the case of tribals.

Despite constituting around 7-8% of the population, they have failed to become a potent political force because of the influence of apolitical NGOs and Christian missionaries which assumed leadership roles for them. Embracing Buddhism is not going to culminate into their real emancipation; at best, it can provide them some solace and lead to some cheers among the Dalit intelligentsia on the issue of so called cultural assertion of Dalits. Dalits would be far more successful if they take a leaf out of OBC politics which did not antagonize the caste Hindus by raising question marks over Hindu religion but fought the battle for supremacy politically. Seeking the solace of Buddhism for a political fight might prove to be counterproductive. They have to find a space within the ambit of Hinduism.

Ambedkar- Phule-Periyar school of thought thrived on politics of exclusion and sectarianism; they failed to appreciate the integrative aspects of the Hindu culture and by selective interpretation of Hindu scriptures without understanding the issues in totality, laid the ground for Dalit movement. Of course, sub altern movements need to be stringent at the start to gain visibility and followers but they have to mellow down at some stage later onwards so as not to antagonize the other communities; unfortunately, this hasn’t happened in the case of Dalit movement. The movement appears perturbed with the Right turn of the lower castes and hence, its leaders are behaving as headless chickens caught in the glare of street lights. Issues like review of reservation criteria and modifications to prevent misuse of SC/ST act are very much a part and parcel of public discourse now and these are something with which the elite Dalit class is not comfortable. Hence, we find the change in the grammar and vocabulary of their protests.

Buddhism as preached by Lord Buddha retained its umbilical cord with Hinduism. No doubt, it was a protest against Brahminical Hinduism but it was only the ritual and Karmkand portions of the Hindu religion that were targeted and moreover, emphasis was on reform of the system. Ambedkar’s Buddhism was a complete rejection of Hinduism as reflected in the 22 vows that Ambedkar took while converting to Buddhism. There is acrimony and bitterness in the religion, something with which no Hindu will empathize.

The Dalits who have converted are just hybrid Hindus following some rituals of Hindus and some rituals of Buddhism because from deep inside, they know that their religion is just for political reasons and not in accordance with their conscience. Hinduism has de-Brahmanized a lot and it is laughable that their attacks on Hinduism are on the same lines as they were 70 – 100 years before during the days of Ambedkar and Phule. Their politics is very much over the invisible Manuwad which is redundant. The society has changed but their modus operandi remains unchanged.

Mayawati needs to pause, think and give proper direction to the Dalit movement rather than attempting to play to the gallery. Acceptance of Buddhism will hasten her political demise but all said and done, it appears that she is just performing a political gimmick.

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Jai prakash Ojha
Jai prakash Ojha
The author works with IGNOU as Assistant Registrar. He frequently blogs/writes articles on social and political subjects. A post graduate in Personnel Management and Industrial Relations, he also holds a post graduate diploma in Journalism and Mass Communication. He may contacted on [email protected] Read his articles on ojhajp.blogspot,com
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