Bundelkhand votes today. Here's how BJP played its cards in the parched region
“Which party are you supporting?”
“Wait a minute. Let me get my shirt from inside.”
Naresh Kumar, a young voter in Manpur village, darted back inside his house before coming out again with his shirt. As he wore the shirt, he flashed the white lotus pinned on his breast pocket. “I graduated from the local college. Even did a course at the ITI. Yet, I do not have a job,” he said.
Kumar is a Balmiki, a Dalit community which mostly works as sweepers. “When Mayawati was in power, she opened up the government jobs for cleaners for all communities,” he said.
“Now the jobs are cornered by the baniyas, the brahmins, the Yadavs and the Thakurs. They outsource it to people like us for a measly Rs 3,000 a month while they save the rest of the salary for themselves,” he added.
“Without working they are saving Rs 15,000 a month while we continue to suffer,” Kumar rued.
“Akhilesh has only inducted the Yadavs from Etawah in police jobs,” he said.
“Haathi ki sarkar ne kuch nahi kiya (The BSP government did not do anything),”, Kumar said pointing out how the local MLA, Gaya Charan Dinkar, who also happens to be the Leader of Opposition in the outgoing Assembly, did not show his face even once.
“The sentiment in the villages is such that even if you field a scarecrow on a BJP ticket he would get votes,” Durga Prasad Pal, a farmer in Amarpur village in Manikpur told this reporter as he walked to his field with two bullocks in tow.
“Paani nahi, ann nahi, college nahi. Hum kya kare? (There is no water, no food grains, no college, what do we do?),” he said.
“Sab ko dekh liya. Modi ko bhi dekh lete hain (We have seen everyone. Let's see (what) Modi can do now as well)” Pandhra Kol, from Garhwa village in Manikpur said.
“Parivartan chahiye (We want change),” Ramu Singh, of Damaura village told Catch.
While some voters like Pramod – from Bijanagar village in Mahoba, which faces a peculiar issue because of the local pond inundating all the farmland, a unique scenario in this parched landscape – said that they don't want doles-like loan waivers but jobs. The BJP's promise of waiving off loans has made other farmers hopeful.
“80% of the people have pending loans in this region. Modi has said he will waive them off. He will not break the promise,” Rakesh Dwivedi told this reporter at a chai shop in Kabrai town of Mahoba, as dumpers filled with stones, from the over 300 stone crushers in the area, crowded the road, enveloping the town in a layer of fine grey dust.
“I have been visiting several villages. All the Jaatis seem to be voting for the BJP,” Lakshmi Pal said, as we chatted at the dispensary in Manpur village.
“The voters are divided. Even the Harijans will not vote enbloc. Some of the votes will go to the BJP,” Syambar Prasad told Catch, in the Harijan quarters of the Chitra Gokulpur village in Chitrakoot as he played cards with other members of the village.
However, as soon as Prasad spoke about the BJP, Ramesh Kori, interjected. “BSP paanch saal se sarkar me nahi hai. Pichle election me humne kamal khilaya. Is baar use neechey lana hai, (BSP has been out of power for the last five years now. Last Lok Sabha elections we made the lotus bloom. This time we will bring it down),” he said.
No water, no votes?
In the drought-ravaged Bundelkhand, which has seen a severe famine-like situation for the past more than eight years now, through both the Mayawati and the Akhilesh Yadav government, a section of the voters, especially from the Dalit and Adivasi communities, are drifting away from their traditional caste choices to vote for the BJP.
With the saffron party continuing to be the first choice of a large section of the upper caste voters, especially Brahmins and even sections of the OBC – the Lodhs, the Kurmis and other communities – this vote bank could swing some seats.
BJP had won just one seat in the 2012 polls. The party had, however, won all the Lok Sabha seats in 2014. And with most constituencies in Bundelkhand now in a triangular contest, with BJP in the fray, the party should easily be able to shore up its tally.
After losing several top backward-class leaders like Babu Singh Kushwaha, Swami Prasad Maurya, RK Patel, Vishambar Prasad Nishad, to name a few, the BSP has not been able to retain it's backward class vote base.
In the 2017 polls, the most crucial for the party, BSP has fielded several upper caste candidates in the region with the hope of getting their votes, and that combined with whatever remains of their Dalit support base and the Muslim vote, which Mayawati has been aggressively vying for, it should be able to make up for the losses.
The SP-Congress odd
However, it is a tricky calculation in the face of the SP-Congress alliance and the Brahmins, seemingly going with the BJP in areas where BSP and BJP both have a Brahmin candidate.
This was visible in Chitrakoot, for example, where voters like Swami Dharmacharya from Khoi village claimed that “BSP's Brahmin candidate would not be even offered water by the Brahmins.”
Mayawati's hopes of getting the Muslim votes in Bundelkhand also rests on leaders like Naseemuddin Siddiqui, the Muslim face of the party who hails from Banda.
Siddiqui has been camping in Banda over the last few days trying to galvanise support for the party, holding Jan Sabhas in Banda and neighbouring districts.
During Mayawati's tenure development work, too, picked up in Banda, which includes a massive almost 800-metres long flyover, which some locals say, was extended to such an absurd length in this small town just to settle scores with Siddiqui's political opponents. One end of the flyover ends right after the residence of the local Congress MLA Vivek Singh, lending credence to the claim.
“The voters are divided,” Qadir Siddiqui, told this reporter at the Nawab-era Jama Masjid in this Bundelkhand town. Several other Muslims whom this reporter spoke to mentioned how Siddiqui was okay but his extended family created trouble for the locals. Some others, meanwhile, supported him.
“He helps the locals with jobs and Behenji has done a lot when she was in power. She rendered the Mafia dysfunctional,” Mohd Abdul Hafeez told this reporter in Lambarheta village in Naraini as he pointed towards the direction of the Ken river which flows close by.
“Now it is a free-for-all for the sand mafia,” he said.
At least four candidates in Banda alone have links to the sand mining business including Prakash Dwivedi, who is contesting on a BJP ticket in Banda.
Interestingly, Modi's speech in Fatehpur on how there should be an equal supply of power on Eid and Diwali has led to unease among the Muslims here.
“I was in a marriage yesterday. And everybody was talking about the need to support the alliance since the prime minister in talking in such a communal language,” Manzar Imam, a local lawyer told Catch.
“The Muslims are consolidating for us. There are pockets of Yadavs too,” one SP leader mentioned speaking about how the party hopes to retain its tally of at least five seats which it got on its own and the rest of the four seats which the Congress won.
“With this consolidation and the choice of our candidates, we will manage,” he said explaining how the alliance has fielded influential candidates including it's sitting MLAs, and have some other leaders like Rajju Bhaiyya and Vishambhar Prasad Nishad, to attract voters from their communities.
Moreover, the division of majority community votes of the dominant castes – like in Banda Sadar where the Thakurs are more likely to support Congress Vivek Singh, a Thakur, instead of BJP's Dwivedi or in Chitrakoot, where Veer Singh Patel may get the lion's share of the Kurmi votes while the Brahmins are seemingly aligning with BJP's CK Upadhayay – too could work in SP's favour.
SP's hopes are also pinned on the various doles that the government has given, especially to students.
“Students are ecstatic about the SP, especially those who have benefitted,” the doctor in Manpur village told Catch.
And like a local SP leader pointed out in Manikpur, “It was the SP which came to the rescue of the drought-hit people and gave them free food for four months besides money for drought relief. It has created goodwill for the party.
Edited by Jhinuk Sen