Ms. Mayawati and Buddhism in Uttar Pradesh: An Interface

Recently, there was a big celebration of Bahujan Samaj Party founder Manyawar Kanshiram’s 77th birth anniversary on March 15, 2011 across the state of Uttar Pradesh. Ms. Mayawati herself offered flowers to many statues of Kanshiram in Lucknow and inspired the people to follow him. But an insufficiently noticed thing which is highly visible in public sphere with Mayawati is her closeness to Bhikkhus. So this day too, she called Bhikkhus to pray and also offered cheevers (cloths for Bhikkhus). Is this a new love of UP Chief Minister Mayawati for Buddhism or it is a part of BSP agenda or ideology?

In response to this curious question, it can be visualized that this is not a kind of ‘new love’ though there is certainly phenomenal closeness. In last few years, she has done so many works close to Buddhism such as- the funeral of Kanshiram with Buddhist rites, construction of a magnificent ‘Baudh Vihar Shanti Upvan’ and ‘International Buddhist Research Institute’ in Lucknow, ‘Gautama Buddha University’ in Noida, and her 55th birth anniversary’s celebrations on January 15, 2011 with the prays by Bhikkhus and having no more cake-cutting affaire. This spirit of cultural transformation is inspired by Ms. Mayawati due to three factors (Kanshiram’s ideology of culture change, Babasaheb’s enlightened or Buddhist India and an unprecedented growth rate of Buddhists in the state).

Eva-Maria Hardtmann in her book ‘Dalit Movement in India’ Oxford 2010, describes BSP founder’s ideology by three ways or the way out for Bahujan Samaj- 1. Social action (a short term solution), 2. Political action (a long term solution), and 3. Cultural changes and control (a durable solution). About his views, she writes “finally, a durable solution for the bahujan samaj will be achieved through cultural changes and control” (p.116). Further, she also opines that the political success of BSP in 2007 has immensely challenged the cultural values that historically put the dalits in invisible positions in relation to others. Contrary to this, Mayawati government is working tirelessly to capture public space symbolically to give a face to dalits in public sphere.

During his deeksha ceremony to Buddhism on October 14, 1956 in Nagpur, Dr Ambedkar wished to dedicate the rest of life to spread Buddha Dhamma. But shortly he died. This incident has been very inspiring to Kanshiram and he found that the durable liberation of bahujan samaj is possible only with Ambedkar’s ideology to make the country a Buddhist.

The unprecedented growth rate of a Buddhist population in last five censuses also has a boost to Mayawati to pursue the agenda of cultural transformation. The decadal growth rate of Buddhist population in Uttar Pradesh has surpassed the growth rate of total population and all the major religions. Whereas the total population growth rate has never gone up from 25%, the Buddhists have recorded with 316% (1961), 235% (1971), 35% (1981), 340% (1991) and 44.8% (2001).   In the similar ways, for example in 1991 and 2001 censuses, the Buddhists have the highest growth rate in comparison of other communities. In 1991, the Buddhists have 340% growth rate while Hindus, Muslims, Christians, Sikhs and Jains were recorded with 17%, 34%, 23%, 51%, and 23% respectively. In the similar way in 2001 census the Buddhists’ growth rate with 44.8% has surpassed Hindus (24%), Muslims (31%), Christians (19%), Sikhs (35%) and Jains 22%.

Thus we see that inspired by the above reasons, now a days, Ms. Maywati’s public sphere and space is well covered by Buddhist symbols and promotion of Buddhist education and rites in the state.
Shiv Shankar Das

A PhD Reserach Fellow in Centre for Political Studies in Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. Intersted in areas like social justice, religion, secularism, and politics. He has also written his M.Phil in the same centre in 2009 on Buddhism and Dalit Politics in Uttar Pradesh.

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