Posted on 27 February 2012
'Yes, Mayawati has performed but we will not vote for her'
Despite Mayawati's role in bringing about development, caste seem to
rule supreme over voting preferences
Jat Farmers outside Sir Shadi Lal Sugar Mill, Shamili: (R-L) Ompal
Singh, Kishen Pal, Ranveer Singh and others.
Photo: Tarun Sehrawat
"You must visit Shamli to know the real mood of the Jat community,"
someone told me in Muzaffarnagar. "Everywhere else you get eight karat
Jats, in Shamli it's the 24-karat ones," said another from Lucknow. So
visiting Shamli was crucial for checking the election barometer among
the sugarcane farmers of Western UP. Several questions such as how are
the Jat farmers looking at Ajit Singh's new alliance with Congress, is
reservation still an issue, how is the sugarcane business surfaced in
my mind. However, what really interested me was to know if after five
years, Mayawati has managed to gain any acceptability among the Jat
farmers—the traditional vote bank of Ajit Singh's Rashtriya Lok Dal?
Does Mayawati's key to power lie in Muslim hands?
Who are the young and restless voting for?
What is Saifai thinking? Is it Akhilesh or Mulayam?
The first thing that comes to mind while talking about the journey
from Muzaffarnagar to Shamli is 'pain'. Mayawati may have created a
new district for Shamli (called Prabudhnagar) but she completely
ignored the condition of the roads. Just like the roads from Kanpur to
Rae Bareli (another non-BSP bastion), these are potholed and heavily
damaged. A journey of 30 kms took us one and a half hours to complete.
Outside the Sir Shadi Lal Sugar Mill I meet a bunch of Jat farmers.
The former pradhan Kishen Pal initiates the discussion. "I will not
lie—Mayawati has indeed done many good things in the last five years,"
he says. Others nod in agreement. Pal lists out the good things done
by BSP government—prices of sugarcane was doubled to Rs 250 in two
years, a new bypass was constructed, Jat youth got employed in police
services without paying any bribe and a new district was created. But
then he leaves you surprised with his sudden conclusion: "But we will
not vote for her." Why, I ask? Ompal Singh who was constantly nodding
his head tries to answer the question. "Mere maan ka baat hai." (It's
a question of respect). I look at him inquisitively. But why, I ask?
Pal comes to the rescue armed with an answer: "Jaatiwaad hai" (there
are bearings of the caste system).
Earlier in the day I had met Rajveer Singh Mundet, a prominent Jat
leader and state president of Bharatiya Kisan Mazdoor Sangarsh Manch.
I asked him what chances did BSP had of winning from Shamli. "Not
much," he said. Why? "Look at the money she spent to built statues,"
he replied. But what about the increase in sugarcane prices, I ask?
"True she increased the prices but she also initiated a lot of
anti-farmer policies," he says. When asked to elaborate, he pointed
out towards the farmer agitation in Noida. I didn't ask him if his
opposition to Mayawati was casteist.
Coming back to my discussion with Jat farmers outside a sugar mill in
Shamli, once the issue of caste was out in the open, there were more
forthcoming with opinions. "Mayawati imposed the draconian Dalit Act,"
complained Ranveer Singh. Since the prevention of atrocities act aka
Dalit Act was brought in by Mayawati, the crime rate against Dalits
has come down dramatically. But the Jat farmers here complain that
this act is being misused against them. Pal adds another to his list
of complaints against Mayawati. "She is dictatorial. She doesn't allow
her ministers to act independently," he says.
Mayawati perhaps recognises the risk of caste being a determining
factor in elections. For once she is at the receiving end of this
social evil. BSP has fielded a number of Muslim candidates in the
area. Her rally on 24 February at Muzaffarnagar saw more Muslim
audience, a sizeable population in sugarcane belt, than the Jats. The
Jat farmers preferred to attend Ajit Singh and Rahul Gandhi's rally
across the town.
Kunal Majumder is a Senior Correspondent with Tehelka.
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