From Tehelka Magazine, Vol 9, Issue 04, Dated 28 Jan 2012
THE BUNDELKHAND RIDDLE
Dalit and the dominoes
Bundelkhand was supposed to be Mayawati's fortress. But the BSP's
elephant is no longer universally revered in these parts. Revati Laul
travels across the region to find out why
Photo: Pramod Adhikari
"THE ELEPHANT is shit." The voice of a single disgruntled voter in
election season does not count for anything by itself. But when it
comes from the heart of Mayawati's vote base, in Uttar Pradesh's
Bundelkhand region, is the voice of a Dalit farmer, and is part of a
growing crescendo of discontent, it's an alarm bell. This time, as she
readies for the state Assembly election in February-March, the
challenge before the Dalit leader is formidable.
Gurcharan, 54 Gurcharan displays a photo of his son, Ram Nishad Babbu,
who he says died trying to prevent the administration from snatching
the village's land for what he claims was a ridiculously low price. He
blames the Mayawati regime for the death. "We will now vote for the
Congress," he says.
Photos: Revati Laul
It pays to Get your Feet dirty
Meet UP: The New Bihar
The vote that counts
Bundelkhand straddles Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh. It is stuck in
vivid visual memory as the land of the Rani of Jhansi, heroine of the
1857 uprising against the British. But ever since Mayawati and the
revival of Dalit icons, statues of the Rani's maid — Jhalkaribai — a
woman from the traditionally "lower castes", also appear prominently
in the belt from Jhansi to Hamirpur.
Jhalkaribai is said to have told the Rani, when the British soldiers
had surrounded her fort, that she would pretend to be the Rani of
Jhansi so that the real queen could escape. Now, in the land of the
Dalit chief minister, Jhalkaribai of the Kori community — a sub-caste
among Dalits — has pride of place in statues across Bundelkhand. But
alongside this assertion of Dalit pride is another stark visual of the
region. Punishing drought and farmers' suicides. Over 500 suicides in
the seven districts of Bundelkhand in Uttar Pradesh alone every year.
Mostly poor farmers from so-called "lower castes", many of whom had
voted for Mayawati in 2007.
Unlocking the key to why the elephant — the symbol of the Bahujan
Samaj Party (BSP) — is no long universally revered in these parts, is
to tell the story of Mayawati's predicament in 2012, as any story on a
Dalit leader should be told: bottom up. From the ground.
Amrahiya is a small village in the heart of Bundelkhand — the district
of Banda. The village is 95 percent Dalit. And most political
observers would bet that here at least, almost everyone would vote for
Mayawati's BSP. And they could possibly be right. But Balbir, 27, a
man who owns four bighas but works outside Banda as a taxi driver, had
an interesting qualifier. "If we are dying of fever, it's not the BSP
from Lucknow that will come running to our aid… We have to vote for a
local candidate who can come to help us when we need it and we are not
sure who that is just yet." And Balbir is from the community that has
always stood firmly behind Mayawati. He is a Jatav, like the chief
minister of Uttar Pradesh.
Banda is also the region where the erstwhile BSP minister and former
aide of Mayawati, Babu Singh Kushwaha, is from. Sacked as minister
after being implicated in the embezzlement of 8,500 crore meant for
the National Rural Health Mission (NRHM). He is the same man who was
then roped in by the BJP to appease voters from his caste (Kushwahas
make up about 4.5 percent of the state's voters). Babu Singh
Kushwaha's murky trail may spell trouble for the BJP. But it has also
left a big black spot on the BSP in Bundelkhand, and on some of
Mayawati's loyal voters.
Barethi Askaran, a Kushwaha-dominated village in the region, was quick
to disown the tainted man. "We're not the same community," says one
farmer quickly. Another says: "Babu Singh Kushwaha was an utterly
useless man… here we live in small hovels and we have got nothing.
This time the winds are blowing in favour of the Congress. In favour
of Daljeet Singh."
Kushwaha's sacking could prove costly for the BSP in the region
Negative factor Kushwaha's sacking could prove costly for the BSP in the region
Ironically, Daljeet Singh, the Congress party candidate from the
district, is a businessman in a very opaque trade — mining. He swears
he is completely above board, an honest man. He contested as an
independent candidate in 2007 and lost narrowly to the BSP. This time,
he says, he's on a stronger wicket with the Congress. When questioned
about his mining business, he was all injured innocence — as all
mining barons always are.
What Daljeet Singh and other Congress candidates fighting an election
in a largely Dalit-populated region hope to do is steal a small
percentage of Mayawati's Dalit vote. They then hope to add to this a
larger slice of OBC and Brahmin votes. Weakening Mayawati is the key.
BUT THE Bundelkhand story, like most stories in Uttar Pradesh, is not
a straightforward one. Among the many twists is that when Mayawati has
tried to clean up things, she has actually lost as much support as
she's gained. In the same region of Bundelkhand, large sections of
upper caste voters are unhappy that 'their' goonda — Shiv Kumar Patel,
the dreaded gangster of the Dadua gang (a Kurmi/OBC gang that was the
face of upper-caste vigilantism) — was hunted down and killed by
Mayawati's police. This caused an upper-caste revolt against Mayawati
in Bundelkhand when the Lok Sabha elections took place in 2009.
The BSP does not have good candidates despite the fact that they have
a committed vote base here
Since 2007, when Mayawati swept to power, numerous crimes have been
reported as specifically anti-Dalit crimes from across Uttar Pradesh.
Since there are more Dalits in Bundelkhand than anywhere else in the
state, police stations were stuffed with FIRs under the SC/ST
Prevention of Atrocities Act. Many upper-caste voters claim these are
false cases. The enforcing of this equalising law by Mayawati has
damaged her carefully stitched together Dalit-Brahmin alliance, making
the 2012 election that much more difficult for her. It is, however,
the enforcing of justice for Dalits, via this very Act, that has kept
even otherwise unhappy Dalits loyal to Mayawati.
An unusually assertive woman, Motibai, 30, in Sarhat village
(Chitrakoot district) sums up the Dalit voter's worst fear.
Retribution. If their leader loses this election, many Dalits may feel
the heat. "Every caste has someone to protect them," Motibai says,
"why shouldn't we? So the Kol community is with the elephant. If the
elephant doesn't win, then the other parties may withdraw the Act."
The term 'Dalit' only loosely defines a group of 66 sub-castes in
Uttar Pradesh, and they are a highly stratified lot. The Jatavs, the
caste Mayawati belongs to, are at the top of the Dalit pyramid in
Uttar Pradesh and the 65 other castes are roughly branded as Ati Dalit
(Extreme Dalit). A group that has, from 2007 on, increasingly felt
doubly discriminated. First, for being Dalit and second for not being
the most favoured amongst the Dalits.
In Bundelkhand, where a big chunk of voters owe their life to Maya,
some blame her neglect for the suicides
Still, even with the dissenting voices, there is a large core
constituency of Scheduled Caste voters that have until now felt they
have no choice but to stick to Mayawati. Their survival is at stake,
or at least self-respect. These are the voices that tell stories of
having cleaned the shit from the village for 10 a day. Beaten, raped
and barely allowed to exist, often completely at the mercy of more
dominant castes. Until Mayawati.
THE TANGIBLE gains for at least the Jatavs amongst the Dalits have
been many. Dalit-dominant villages were handpicked for the Ambedkar
Village schemes. Those villages are home to decisively pro- Mayawati
farmers, like Bindu Kumar and his wife Urmila. Now supervising the
building of their pucca home, bricks and mortar and all, by availing a
scheme for Dalits. They are proud to present their toilet, still a
novelty in a Dalit home. Across Bundelkhand, the sight of a Dalit
woman bathing in the open, right in the centre of the village square,
is commonplace. A bathroom and a toilet is not just a secure vote.
It's a tectonic shift in the dignity and sense of self it affords.
Congress candidate Daljeet is optimistic of a good show this year
Mining for votes Congress candidate Daljeet is optimistic of a good
show this year
But in the many-headed hydra that is Bundelkhand, where a large chunk
of voters owe their life to Mayawati, some blame her neglect for the
deaths in the region. This is suicide country. In which Himmat Rai was
a teenager when his father hanged himself, because he couldn't pay off
a Rs 80,000 loan. He is a 'Thakur' and says he is now going to vote
for Mulayam Singh Yadav's Samajwadi Party.
Also in suicide land is the proud and distraught Gurcharan, displaying
the funeral photograph of his son, who he says died trying to prevent
the administration from snatching the village's land for what he
claims was a ridiculously low price. Ram Nishad Babbu, 32, was one of
a few hundred agitating villagers who stormed off to the tehsildar's
office, saying the local administration had snatched their land to
build a dam for not even a quarter of the market price of the land.
The local official retorted tauntingly, "You villagers keep
threatening to immolate yourselves, but no one has the guts to
actually do it." At which point, Ram Nishad doused himself with
kerosene. The dam has been stalled. Bundelkhand has no water. Land
rates have been revised. And Ram Nishad is dead. To his father,
Mayawati's government is the culprit. "We will vote for the Congress,"
This time around, Maya's rivals have learnt some caste arithmetic from
her and reapplied it to their own parties
In election season, the question of whose fault the extreme poverty
and indebtedness is comes down to perception. In 2008, Mayawati
created the Bundelkhand Special Area Development Authority. She wrote
repeatedly to the Centre asking for farmers' loans up to 2011 to be
waived. And made sure the public is aware that she requested the
Centre for a special assistance package of Rs 80,000 crore for
Bundelkhand. What the Centre did give is Rs 7,266 crore for all of
Bundelkhand (encompassing both states). Uttar Pradesh's share was
about half: Rs 3,506 crore.
But even of this amount, sanctioned in November 2009, only 23 percent
has been used so far. Whose fault is it — Mayawati's or the
Congress-led United Progressive Alliance's? In Bundelkhand, farmers'
suicides may impact the BSP only to the extent that it is the
incumbent government and some amount of disenchantment with the
administration will affect votes.
Congress' Sampad Pal is the wild-card candidate in the mix
Pink campaign Congress' Sampad Pal is the wild-card candidate in the mix
But Bundelkhand has been in an ever worsening crisis for over a
decade. So the only recourse for any sort of protection, or even the
reason to vote, isn't development. It's caste.
Here, there is a quantifiable loss to Mayawati's vote base, indirectly
stemming from the stark poverty and backwardness of Bundelkhand. A
large chunk of Dalit voters consists of migrant labour, driven into
Delhi, Haryana and Punjab to build other people's homes and highways.
The Congress candidate from Banda, Vivek Singh, cites polio-drop
statistics as proof. Fifty-thousand households to be administered the
drops were counted to have locked doors — that's at least 1.5 lakh
fewer voters, calculates Singh. One-and-a-half lakh people that would
in all likelihood choose Mayawati, except they are too poor to stay
THERE IS, however, one other large piece of this electoral math that
hasn't been explored properly so far. According to the Election
Commission's data, 44 percent of all Dalits in Uttar Pradesh vote.
Where are the remaining 56 percent?
Political scientist AK Verma of Christ Church College, Kanpur, has
been digging into the question. "They can't all be migrant labourers,
I thought, and so I kept digging deeper. And came up with this
startling fact. Much of this other half is actually tribal." He
explains that this until-now-unsolved piece of arithmetic could hugely
upset Mayawati's and everyone else's calculations in this polls. Verma
says, most of the communities listed in UP as Scheduled Castes are
actually Scheduled Tribes, but the government's incorrect nomenclature
has resulted in these tribes not getting their recognition as tribals.
Not getting their status under the quota system as Scheduled Tribes is
causing them to become increasingly disenchanted people who form that
other half that hasn't been voting.
He explains this phenomenon further. In 1950, when communities were
being listed as Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe by the framers of
the Indian Constitution, only five were listed as Scheduled Tribes in
Uttar Pradesh. It took the rest of Uttar Pradesh's tribals a shocking
53 years to get the government to notice. Finally, in 2003, 10 more
communities were transferred from the Scheduled Caste to the Scheduled
Tribe list. There are many other tribes still awaiting their turn. And
their point of view, Verma says, is that by not getting Scheduled
Tribe status, their slice of the reservation pie and access to
political power and economic growth remains nil.
This group includes communities like the Gonds and the Kols, who have
gained little and in some cases nothing from voting for Mayawati. And
stand to lose nothing by voting elsewhere. A lot will depend on their
getting out to vote at all. So much of Mayawati's challenge still lies
in making her candidates campaign aggressively in the days ahead.
"The BSP doesn't have good candidates despite the fact that they have
a committed vote base," explains Sudhir Singh, a CPM party worker and
resident of Banda. Indeed, the big challenge for Mayawati in 2012 will
be to win despite having a loosely strung together cadre.
Bindu Kumar, 34 The tangible gains for at least the Jatavs among the
Dalits have been many. Bindu Kumar is supervising the building of a
pucca home, bricks and mortar and all, by availing a scheme for
Dalits. He is proud to present the toilet, still a novelty in a Dalit
A Dalit farmer in Banda sums it up, "We Dalits are a thoroughly
disunited lot. We cannot stand the next person's success and will do
anything to tear him down." He was describing the biggest stumbling
block to mobilising the most downtrodden, most oppressed into one
party. Dispossession often breeds divisiveness.
Political scientist at Jawaharlal Nehru University, Sudha Pai wrote of
the structure of the BSP: "The party's concept of social justice,
therefore, is not a moral or ethical position, but a plan of action…
based upon the exigencies of the situation." In this marriage of
convenience, BSP party workers point out, power cannot and is not
shared. Its only owner is Mayawati.
However, her close aide Naseem Uddin Siddiqui fends off the criticism.
"The political pundits and press have said this before about us, that
we are losing ground. We don't need to reveal our strategy to anyone.
And we like challenges."
Will the old recipe of "we are victims because we are Dalits" work
again? It's what has driven Mayawati's election campaign earlier and
this time as well. "The Election Commission is anti-Dalit," she said
on her 56th birthday, in reference to the EC's order that statues of
elephants across the state be covered during the election campaign.
And in an effort to not come across as anti-anybody herself, she
released a list of candidates that sought to renew her rainbow
alliance of 2007: 88 tickets to Scheduled Caste candidates, 113 to
OBCs, 85 to minorities (largely Muslims) and 117 to the so-called
upper castes, including 74 Brahmins.
'Political pundits have said this before about us, that we are losing
ground,' retorts a Mayawati aide
But this time around, her major rivals have learnt some caste
arithmetic from her and reapplied it with great precision to their own
parties. Everybody wants to replicate her rainbow. Whilst publicly
campaigning against caste politics, Rahul Gandhi and the Congress have
watched and learned. "This time, the Congress is doing the practical
thing in putting up the right caste candidates," says political
observer Sudhir Singh.
One such candidate is a wild card choice for patriarchal Bundelkhand:
Sampad Pal, leader of the Gulabi Gang. The pink ladies have, since
2006, stormed into district collectors' offices, slapped a few of them
and administered on-the-spot justice for the poor and particularly for
women. Their leader, Sampad Pal, is a sort of female Robin Hood with
her thousand women in a thousand pink saris. She is now a Congress
candidate from Chitrakoot.
"What have all those bastard f***ers done for you, huh?" Sampad
thunders on her campaign trail. "Vote for the hand. You know me —
Sampad Pal of the Gulabi gang.
"I was married off when I was 12, became a mother when I was 15," she
later reveals. "Then I thought, will I be a slave all my life?" But
she swears, if she wins, her gang will never enter politics with her;
"Or I will end up becoming like Mamata Banerjee — hankering for power
to sustain the gang." Then she throws her head back and laughs.
Mayawati has tried to portray the EC as an anti-Dalit entity
The big cover-up Mayawati has tried to portray the EC as an anti-Dalit entity
Photo: Shailendra Pandey
BY CONTRAST, the party meant for the downtrodden in the land of the
downtrodden has kept itself and its candidates as far away from the
media as possible. And all its conversations play out in an elliptical
loop. "I will win…we will win… Behenji is everything…" says Ache Lal
Nishad, BSP candidate against Sampad Pal.
If there is one thing in Ache Lal and the BSP's favour, it's that the
Congress with its careful stitching and the BJP with its obvious
attraction for the Brahmin voter and the resurgent Samajwadi Party may
all cut into each other's votes.
This may end up as Bundelkhand — and indeed the Uttar Pradesh — pie
being sliced into many smaller pieces, leaving the BSP still with
sizeable number of seats and vote share, but nowhere close to the
majority it won in 2007.
A diminished elephant may be trouble not just for Mayawati, but indeed
result in a throwback to the pre-2007 era — of coalition politics and
even more instability in Uttar Pradesh. There are also the limits.
Dalit identity qua Dalit identity. In the past decade, Verma reasons,
a section of the Dalits has come into its own, economically and
politically. This lot may not care much for the protective umbrella
that the BSP offers Dalits, especially if it faces hostility from
A senior official in the Uttar Pradesh government talked about what
five years in power had done to the cadre of the BSP. Damage. "An
inherently insecure group has spent the past few months pulling each
other down," the official says. Which explains why for the first time
ever, the BSP has shuffled around candidates at the very last minute.
There are even some among the BSP who are now disgruntled enough to
want to campaign against their own party. These are symptoms of an
insecurity that is bred right at the top; many insiders say Mayawati
is not comfortable with promoting any other charismatic leader who
happens to be a Dalit.
She is the Sole Spokesperson. On 6 March, what will her voter tell her?
Revati Laul is a Special Correspondent with Tehelka.
Maya's image makeover turns out to be a farce
Two of the tainted ministers sacked by the UP CM have ended up getting
BSP tickets, reports Abhishek Bhalla
EVEN AS Mayawati is trying hard at an image makeover by sacking
ministers ahead of the Assembly polls, Uttar Pradesh Lokayukta Justice
(retd) NK Mehrotra is furious that his recommendations to initiate
criminal proceedings against tainted ministers have gone unheard.
The Uttar Pradesh chief minister has axed 26 ministers till date on
charges of graft but Opposition parties have called it an orchestrated
attempt to temporarily sideline the corrupt.
While Mayawati showed the door to at least 10 ministers against whom
the Lokayukta found evidence of corruption, land grab and misusing
their office for personal gains, she ignored Justice Mehrotra's demand
to book them under the appropriate legal framework.
"We had asked for action taken reports but not a single one has been
provided. I'm in the process of giving a special report to the
Governor regarding noncompliance," an angry Justice Mehrotra told
The inaction has left whistleblowers surprised. Sobodh Yadav, the
complainant against one of the ministers, says, "The idea was to send
these corrupt men to jail. But that will never happen. When the
Lokayukta has already found evidence against them, the chief minister
should have ensured that criminal cases were registered."
Mayawati's pre-poll farce is corroborated by the fact that from the
list of BSP candidates, two ministers indicted by the Lokayukta and
sacked by Mayawati — Ranganath Mishra and Rajesh Tripathi — are back
in the fray.
Mishra, the former higher secondary minister who is contesting from
Mirzapur, is accused of land grab and possessing disproportionate
assets. The Lokayukta had recommended that a case under the Prevention
of Corruption Act be registered against him. It also recommended that
Mishra be charged under the Abolition of Zamindari Act and the land
occupied by him in Sant Ravidas Nagar district must be given back to
the village. An action taken report was to be submitted within a
month. But no criminal proceedings have been initiated more than three
months after the report.
Back in action Sacked BSP ministers Rajesh Tripathi and Ranganath
Mishra are once again in the fray
"I'm told that a probe is underway but till now nobody has bothered to
even record my statement," says Swaminath Mishra, complainant in the
case. "This is just an eyewash. Now Mishra is also contesting on a BSP
ticket. It is clear Mayawati's act of sacking was a farce." When
TEHELKA contacted Mishra, his nephew came on the line and said, "The
Lokayukta report was flawed and when Behenji (Mayawati) realised the
mistake, she took him back."
Tripathi, the former homoeopathy minister who will be contesting from
Gorakhpur, is accused of grabbing land belonging to a cremation ground
in the same district. He is also accused of diverting the MLA local
development scheme funds to his school. The Lokayukta had recommended
that a probe should be carried out by the Rural Development Department
to look into the misuse of funds by MLAs and other officials who might
be party to this loot. "There has been no such probe and not a single
official punished," says Justice Mehrotra.
Meanwhile, Anant Mishra who was sacked as health minister for his
alleged role in the multi-crore National Rural Health Mission (NRHM)
scam, was denied nomination, but his wife Uma has got a ticket from
Mayawati, who released her latest list of candidates on 15 January,
said that while selecting candidates, special attention was paid to
the fact that they had a clean image. "In the last election, many
people from other parties managed to get BSP tickets," she said.
"After coming to power, instead of working towards the development of
their areas, they were involved in wrong activities out of personal
interests. These are the people who spoiled the old BSP cadre and this
is why they were denied tickets."
Party insiders say that Mayawati is not taking any chances. "She is
banking on her old formula of gathering support across castes and not
banking alone on Dalit votes. She is hoping to repeat her 2007 poll
victory," says a BSP leader on condition of anonymity.
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