Thursday, February 9, 2012

[ZESTCaste] Mayawati our leader and will always be so, say Dalits

Mayawati our leader and will always be so, say Dalits
Agra, Feb 9, 2012, (IANS)

Allegations of corruption against Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister
Mayawati find no takers in large parts of this Dalit land where people
from socially marginalised communities braved the cold to vote in
large numbers.

A day after the first phase of assembly elections concluded in 55
constituencies, Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) loyalists see nothing wrong
in Mayawati's penchant for tales of opulence or statue building.

Of the Taj city's almost two million people, a quarter is engaged in
the traditional leather shoes industry that has seen a significant
turnaround in the past decade.
The Dalits of Agra region have become an economic entity and form the
backbone of not only the shoe but iron foundries and glass industries
as well.

"They are now vocal and empowered. They believe it has all happened
because of BSP's rise since 1989," says Abhinay Prasad, a consultant
for the shoe industry.
The Dalits here reverentially address four-time chief minister
Mayawati as 'Behenji', or sister.

In the predominantly Dalit areas of Jagdishpura, Bodla, Bheem Nagar or
on the periphery of Agra, the refrain is the same.

"Mayawati is the new messiah who has done so much to lend dignity to
our social reformers and leaders by installing their statues. What is
wrong with that? Didn't other parties do that earlier?" asked a young
activist, Netra Pal Singh.

"The BSP is not just a political outfit, it represents the
continuation of the Dalit struggle and is a manifestation of our
deep-seated frustrations," he added.
After BSP founder leader Kanshi Ram, Mayawati has consolidated these
sentiments. Dalits here vote en bloc for her, says activist Surendra
Singh Chandel.

Corruption charges against her are seen to be motivated by caste prejudices.
"Behenji, single-handed, like Rani of Jhansi, is arraigned against the
combined onslaught of anti-Dalit forces. She will defeat all of them,"
says a confident BSP member, Rukmani Devi.

The dense Dalit Jatav population in Agra, Mathura, Aligarh, Hathras
and Firozabad has always been a crucial factor in any electoral

"The reason is that this segment has loyally voted for one particular
group or party and leveraged its identity to advantage," said Forward
Bloc leader Ram Kishore, a political analyst.

"The annual Bheem Nagri and Baba Sahab's birthday celebrations are at
par with Ram Lila," he added.

BSP leaders here are clearly happy that a whopping 62 percent voted Wednesday.
Said BSP's Arbind Pushkar: "BSP voters came out in large numbers
despite the cold and rains to make sure Behenji returns with a clear
majority (in the 403-member house)."

If the cold wave continues, it could become difficult to mobilise
voters, "especially the so-called elite crowd", warned Vinay Paliwal,
a former socialist.

Political pundits, however, feel that a high voter turnout indicates
the fierce contest in Uttar Pradesh.

"The party with the most loyal following and committed voters always
stands to benefit," political commentator Paras Nath Choudhary told
IANS on phone from Ghaziabad.

Congress candidates Sumit Bibhav and Nazeer Ahmed see the high turnout
as a hopeful sign for the Congress.

Social activist Anna Hazare's followers are also taking the credit for
the large voting.
"The Anna impact is visible everywhere. Parties have been a little
more careful in fielding new and clean faces although caste continues
to remain the ultimate qualification," said human rights activist
Naresh Paras.

"Candidates with a criminal past have been identified and will most
certainly feel the heat of the campaign," he said.

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is also hopeful. "Wait for the
results," gushed young BJP leader Deepak Khare, a corporator in Agra.

Supporters of the Samajwadi Party, which is determined to oust the
BSP, are a worried lot. But they too have their fingers crossed.

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