Big Two's caste politics on test
Ravish Tiwari Posted online: Thu Feb 23 2012, 03:17 hrs
Agra : Few regions will test Mayawati's Dalit politics and governance
record as sternly as Agra, the province the British had unified with
Oudh to form United Provinces, now Uttar Pradesh.
This is one region where Mayawati has not replaced her incumbent MLAs
as she has done elsewhere. To meet the challenge from a resurgent
Congress-RLD alliance and the Samajwadi Party, each striving to
register its presence in Agra district, she will bank on the way her
government has developed Agra city, though such measures have upset
some voters as deeply as they have pleased others.
These include the soon-to-be-opened Yamuna Expressway that will
provide another fast link to Delhi; power reforms with distribution
handed over to a private company, Torrent Power Ltd; an upcoming, Rs
1,000-crore, 20km ring road; a leather park; and a leather shoe mandi.
Measures born out of Dalit politics have included strengthening the
Bhim Nagari Samaroh Samiti that not only observes Bhimrao Ambedkar's
birth anniversary but also undertakes various projects in bastis that
are predominantly Dalit.
"When we started the Bhim Nagari project in 1996, we got projects only
worth Rs 1 lakh. Thanks to Behnji, the work done last year was worth
Rs 70 crore," says Dharmendra Soni, organising committee treasurer.
"Work in Naripura locality this year has been suspended because of the
election code of conduct."
Soni admits, however, that the event is seen as a BSP fest, largely
because of the leaders who take the stage. This has, in turn, has
endeared mayawati more than ever to Dalit voters.
"I will vote for the BSP," says Sanjay Prajapati of Naripura. "They
will get all our votes," echoes Jyoti Prasad. "The Congress has broken
our backs with inflation."
Non-Dalit voters, on the other hand, cite the government's projects to
express their disillusionment. "This Torrent, they have sent power
bills climbing," says Mohammed Haroon, a daily wager in Deveretha, a
Bhim Nagari locality developed in 2010.
Though he agrees his area has developed, he says, "Last time we voted
for the BSP; this time will go with either the SP or the Congress."
Such a mood was reflected among many voters in neighbouring Azampada
locality, dominated by Muslims.
As of now, the resentment does not appear consolidated enough to
challenge Mayawati. The Muslims are still divided between the Congress
and the SP, and the Brahmins between the BJP and the Congress, at
least to an extent.
Agra has nine seats, six with the BSP, two with the BJP and the ninth
with a Jan Morcha candidate, then backed by Raj Babbar but now with
Going by the renomination of all but one of her legislators — the
exception was prompted by the conversion of that seat from reserved to
general — Mayawati appears confident as ever in the work done. Outside
of Agra, she has replaced over half her legislators to beat
The BJP has been asserting its presence within the city, challenging
the BSP in Agra Cantonment, Agra South and Agra North. The
Congress-RLD's challenge is in rural Fatehpur Sikri and Kheragarh. The
SP has "borrowed" local BJP faces, Raja Aridaman Singh (Bah), his wife
Rani Pakshalika Singh (Khergarh) and MLA Rajendra Singh (Fatehabad).
Aridaman Singh, who lost as a BJP candidate last time, is now the SP
candidate in Brahmin-dominated Bah, where he is banking on swinging
the Lodh-Rajput and Gaderia votes to challenge the BSP's Brahmin
candidate, who still looks well placed.
Etmadpur, the seat de-reserved, is seeing a spirited battle between
the BSP and the SP, with the latter's hopes pinned on the sizeable
presence of its candidate's Gaderia community, on Yadavs, and on those
disgruntled with the BSP. The ruling party's candidate, Dharampal
Singh, is wary also of the Congress-RLD's Thakur candidate, who might
poach on his own Thakur base, and has therefore been wooing Other
Backward Classes like Kushwahas and Teli-Baniyas.
The RLD candidate is its state president Baba Hardev Singh, a former
bureaucrat who served in the region years ago. He is hoping the
goodwill he earned then will translate into votes across the SP, BSP
and BJP bases. "Baba is a very nice and honest man, but not having a
vote bank will leave him trailing a bit," says Ram Prakash Rathore, a
Teli-Baniya in Etmadpur town.
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