Saturday, February 4, 2012

[ZESTCaste] Poll Plan: Caste shadows poll issues in U.P.

Barabanki, February 4, 2012
Poll Plan: Caste shadows poll issues in U.P.
Atiq Khan

Putti Lal, a Dalit, lost his job as a cook in the primary school in
Harak block in Zaidpur (SC) constituency in Barabanki district as the
children from the upper castes refused to eat the food cooked by him.

Ram Sewak Yadav of Satrohanpur village in Daryabad constituency has to
get his quota of DAP manure at the black market rate of Rs. 1,000 per
bag, and urea at the rate of Rs. 450 per bag. Reason: the bulk of the
fertiliser and manure are cornered by the "dabang" (powerful), not
necessarily from the upper castes. The Kurmis in the region are rich
farmers and equally powerful.

Welcome to Barabanki, the caste cauldron of central Uttar Pradesh,
once famed for its opium cultivation conjoined with the dubious
distinction of being part of illegal drug traffic in the State.
Barabanki is a curious mix of metalled roads, dusty hamlets, lush
fields and negligible industries. This is typical of a district where
the upper castes and the "dabang" exist side by side with the lower
castes and the downtrodden. Small wonder that both, the Bahujan Samaj
Party and the Congress (read Union Steel Minister Beni Prasad Verma)
are eager to net maximum gains through their own method of caste
arithmetic. Their weapon is caste politics. Also aiming for a share in
the caste pie are the Samajwadi Party and the Bharatiya Janata Party.

Since Barabanki is Beni Prasad Verma's home district, the people here
talk about the 'Beni factor' dominating the Congress poll campaign.
"Potable water is a problem area but Beni babu cannot be faulted for
it," said Mansha Ram Verma of Birauli village in Daryabad Assembly

The contest in Daryabad is an interesting one with the Steel
Minister's son, Rakesh Kumar Verma, pitted against three-time MLA of
the Samajwadi Party, Rajiv Kumar Singh. Also in the fray is Vivekanand
Pandey of the BSP.

The constituency has about 65,000 Rawat or Pasi scheduled caste
voters, followed by around 30,000 Gautam or Chamar SC voters. The
Kurmis, the OBC caste to which the Union Steel Minister belongs,
number around 20,000 in Daryabad. Besides, there are 25,000 Muslims,
18,000 Brahmins and 20,000 Yadavs.

Barabanki is one of the districts with a large concentration of Dalit
voters, around 7.2 lakh. Here, the Kurmis also exercise a domineering
influence on the outcome of the elections. And among the Dalits, it is
the population of the Pasis which exceeds that of the Gautams — or
Chamar sub-caste of the Dalits — the caste to which the Bahujan Samaj
Party president belongs. So it is not surprising to find the caste
factor overshadowing the more pressing issues of development and basic
needs of the people when it came to the selection of candidates.

"Mayawati has mastered the technique of building cross-caste
alliances, as was evident in the BSP's success in the 2007 Assembly
elections. Her approach in the forthcoming polls towards stitching an
alliance between caste groups opposed to each other is no different,
the ability to solicit the support of her core vote bank of the Chamar
Dalit sub-caste has helped her", said a professor of Saket Post
Graduate College in neighbouring Faizabad.

In fact, Barabanki presents a classic case of the distribution of
candidates taking into account their castes alone — this is true
elsewhere in the State. In two Scheduled Caste constituencies of
Zaidpur and Haidergarh, the BSP president has given tickets to Ved
Prakash Rawat and Ram Narain Rawat, in the hope that the Pasi votes
will combine with the Chamar votes to ensure her victory.

As Putti LaL of Harak village remarked, "The Harijans (to be read as
Chamar) will vote for Behenji (Mayawati) and the 'jaati' ( to be read
as Pasis) votes will go to the two Rawats". In the caste politics of
Uttar Pradesh, the Chamar and Pasi sub-castes of the Dalits have
always been at logger heads. The Pasis, who are mostly into
pig-rearing in the rural areas, have not progressed in comparison to
the other Dalit sub-castes, mainly the Gautams (Chamars).

The Congress too is not far behind in playing the caste card for
electoral gains. For instance, Mr. Verma's son Rakesh from Daryabad is
a Kurmi, Baijnath Rawat in the Pasi-dominated Zaidpur (SC) belongs to
this caste; and RK Chaudhri, fielded from Haidergarh (SC), is also a

Incidentally, the Steel Minister has been accused of managing about 60
percent of tickets for the OBCs — Kurmis and Yadavs — in the 55
constituencies where elections are to be held in the first phase on
February 8. Apart from the constituencies in Barabanki, Mr. Verma's
clout extends to Bahraich and Gonda districts as well.

In this mad rush for caste votes, development has merited just a
passing reference in political speeches like: "U.P. kyon pichhra (why
is U.P. backward)?" No political party, however, is ready to take the
blame for the lack of development, especially in rural areas.


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