Behenji by Ajoy Bose – Book Review
Behenji A political biography of Mayawati, a Dalit woman who rose to become one of the strongest politicians of the biggest and politically the most watched state in India. Not much is known about her as a person. Unlike most public figures today who are out there, she maintains an aura of mystery around her. Choosing to interact with few. And that too when she wants. Ajoy Bose has observed her through her political career as a journalist. And hence is able to analyze her rise and fall in politics. Her style, her insecurities and her ambitions to cull out a personality that is not known to many, at least not first hand. I was interested in reading about her as I thought her journey is incredible.
You may or may not like as a politician, her style of ruling and her ruthlessness. But you can not deny her courage, her ambition and her single minded pursuit of what she wanted. It is not easy to be a politician in this country. Much less if you a woman and unimaginable if you are born in a Dalit home in a lower middle-class family. You are expected to struggle through to lead your life. At most, if your parents are ambitious enough you land up in a bureaucratic position. And believe that you are running the country.
Mayawati was also following the same path, preparing for her IAS exams, while working as a teacher in a school. And studying law at Delhi University. I always thought she came from UP. But she is a Delhi girl, born and brought up in the capital city. Like most girls in this country at least in her childhood days, she resented her parents paying more attention to their sons than daughters. She was outspoken. And once at a public meeting, she spoke her mind going against the bigwigs present there. And this was to be the turning point in her life.
Her mentor Kanshi Ram spotted her. Inspired her to join politics. And mentored to reach where she is today. A lot of people think she is where she is because of her relationship with Kanshi Ram with whom she lived. But what many people do not know or overlook is that he spotted her based on her ability to speak despite being in a disadvantageous situation. Because he saw some bright spark in her. And not because of any other reason. Together they built their party BSP from scratch. And the rest is history.
There is a chronological documentation of Mayawati’s political career. Accounting each election she fought, the number of votes she got. The number of rallies she addressed. And the graph of all these through all the state and parliamentary elections she and her party contested in. There is a documentation of her relationship with people around her. The biggest influence being Kanshi Ram who gave her the title of Behenji, a respectful world for an elder sister. Others include her secretaries in the office. And people who were in the party but were decimated by her as soon as they grew beyond a point.
The incident at Lucknow guest house where she was attacked shows her sheer courage. A person with less mettle would have given away after that. But looks like for her it only added fuel to fire. Her hunger for power was always so strong that she was willing to do anything for it – make or break from any political party. Her administrative skills that she learned on the job and how her style changed from her one stint to next as a CM shows she was willing to learn on the go. She experimented with bureaucracy by shuffling around people. And got the title of Transfer Rani. But then data shows that most politicians have been doing the same in UP.
Being a Dalit icon and caste was always her trump card. She represented the lowest strata of the society and they love her. When in power she did change the flow of funds towards her people though in a very strange way. Like building roads in a town only in Dalit areas. She tried to bring the Dalit pride, which was non-existent before her. People took pride in the fact that one of them is ruling in the state. And really did not mind her lavish lifestyle, on the contrary, they celebrated it. She did try to move her agenda from Bahujan Samaj to Sarvjan Samaj to include the upper castes. But that kind of backfired and she went back to her Dalit agenda. Her dream of becoming the prime minister or the king maker is well known. And she did come quite close to her dream.
Throughout the story, BJP comes across as a loser. A party that kept losing in its primary state of UP. And was used by anyone and everyone as a smaller ally despite being the second largest party in the country. The inner fragments that do not let this bright party stand on solid ground are the prime reason for its sorry state in UP as well as the rest of the country. The author could be biased. But he states facts where a section of BJP was supporting Mayawati and another was opposing her. A fact that benefitted her and harmed BJP like anything.
Author’s admiration for Mayawati comes across throughout the book Behenji. I would have liked to know more about Mayawati the person and her story. As this story essentially remains a politician’s story. I want to know what was going on in her mind when she left her father’s house to move with Kanshi Ram. How did she feel when she was attacked by Goons? How she strategized, how she felt when Kanshi Ram handed over the reins to her? And how she felt when was deceived by her party men and when she made some of them deceive their original parties.
I want to know if she feels alone and lonely and how she deals with it? Having virtually no family support around her though her family seems to have prospered under her success. I want to know how she views the massive wealth that she has gathered and what she plans to do with it. I want to know where does she see her party after her. She has immortalized herself in stone at many places and many hearts may be. But if she were to retire from politics what would she do. In a man’s world, she is living like a super man, I want to know her feminine side which never comes out. After 300+ pages also she remains a mystery.
Read Behenji if like me you also want to read the journey of one of only two women politicians in this country who have come up on their own with massive grass root support, other one being Mamta Banerjee. You do get to know the story in a consolidated manner, though nothing new is mentioned in the book Behenji.