Thursday, March 1, 2012

[ZESTCaste] Maya faces irony of empowerment

Thursday , March 1 , 2012

Maya faces irony of empowerment
- Assertion gives voice to impatience

Holi, heralding the onset of summer, is barely a week away but there
is still a chill in the air. The late afternoon sunshine casts a
mellow glow over the waters in the canal that runs neatly through the
fields that spread out to the far horizon. The narrow road that snakes
through green fields of swaying wheat shot with the bright yellow of
mustard in full bloom is equally neat and well laid.

It takes us barely 10 minutes to reach the interior village of
Lodhipur, about 4km off the main Akbarpur-Tanda road. Just a few years
ago, it would have taken hours of trudging through mud and slush to
get there.

The village comes as a bigger surprise. It is clean and sparkling,
lanes of brick or concrete have been laid out to connect the houses,
most of which are "pucca" and not the mud-and-thatch hovels of yore.
The primary school stands out prominently — glistening beneath a fresh
coat of white wash and boards displaying alphabets and numerals. On an
outside wall, details of the MNREGA scheme have been written down,
complete with numbers of a helpline for those who haven't got their
job cards. Of the 500-odd houses that fall under the gram sabha, more
than 350 have television, with TataSky dishes on every other roof.

Lodhipur, a village with over 45 per cent scheduled caste population,
qualifies to be declared an Ambedkar Village — the special scheme
which ensures targeted development of villages that had been cesspools
of squalor and neglect before the "social empowerment" in Uttar
Pradesh gathered pace.

It was given the tag but doesn't have it anymore. Even without that
special status, Lodhipur, in the heart of Mayawati's bastion of
Akbarpur district — which she has renamed Ambedkar Nagar — is a
heartwarming advertisement of what governments can do.

But an even bigger surprise awaits us. As a large group of villagers
gather, a young man with an air of easy confidence steps up to answer
our queries. "Badlav ka lehar chal raha hai, is baar to hum sab cycle
ko vote diye hain, (there is a wave for change and we have voted for
the cycle"). Is he a Yadav, by any chance, a stray supporter of
Samajwadi Party in a belt that is synonymous with Mayawati's "haathi"?

"Oh no," he says, and introduces himself as Rakesh Kumar Chamar — his
caste name no longer something to be ashamed of but referred to
matter-of-factly as a badge of identity.

But hasn't there been a lot of development here? "Haan, vikas to hua
hai par saath saath ghotala bhi bahut hua hai (Yes, there has been
development, but also a great deal of corruption)."

Now that Rakesh has spoken, others too join in. Their anger is
directed at the Akbarpur MLA, Ram Achal Rajbhar, who served as
transport minister in the Mayawati government.

"He would never do anything for us. He only helped his community of
Rajbhars, not us Chamars. And his men asked for money for every little

Of course, many Dalits will still vote for the BSP but Rakesh and his
kinsmen make it clear that they are not the BSP's "bandhua mazdoor"
(bonded labour) anymore.

Everyone wants change this time, and that includes a section of
Dalits, too. "When Behenji (Mayawati) was CM earlier, she was much
better because Kanshi Ram was there to guide her. But after she got
full majority, she depended on her ministers and they gave her wrong
advice," he adds, to approving nods of those around him.

The irony is that without Mayawati's politics of assertion, Rakesh
would never have acquired the confidence he has today. But empowerment
has also meant awareness and aspiration, impatience and restlessness.

An earlier generation was eternally grateful for the crumbs of
patronage that came their way; Rakesh takes it as a matter of right
and does not feel beholden to anybody, including "Behenji".

Lodhipur, we discover, is not an isolated pocket of rebellion. In all
of Ambedkar Nagar district — which has the five Assembly seats of
Akbarpur, Tanda, Katehari, Alapur and Jalalpur — incumbent BSP
legislators are facing a wave of anti-incumbency and the Samajwadi
Party is the biggest beneficiary.

This despite the fact that it has been, possibly, the most pampered
district in all of Uttar Pradesh. Mayawati had won the Akbarpur
parliamentary seat twice in the past. In 2007, the BSP won all five
Assembly segments and three of the five MLAs were made ministers.

Apart from rural development, the district has acquired a medical
college in Tanda, an engineering college near Akbarpur, two degree
colleges named after Ramabai and Savitribai Phule and a number of

Yet, tales of BSP corruption have become part of local folklore. "Men
who could not afford a cycle now drive around in Scorpios" is a common
refrain. In Akbarpur town, a labourer who, like Rakesh, introduces
himself as "Paras Chamar", refers to minister Ram Achal's Man Friday
Daya Ram who charged money for every small thing. The local saying, he
adds, is, "Mantri ko vote chahiye, Daya Ram ko note chahiye". That is
why many in his village have voted for either the Congress or the
Samajwadi Party this time, to teach "Behenji" a lesson.

Our visit to Akbarpur is an eye-opener in other ways too, settling
many puzzling questions in the Uttar Pradesh elections as a whole. It
answers, for instance, why people talk about the "cycle" racing ahead
even though most have a lot more goodwill for the Congress and Rahul

Two men we meet in Akbarpur town are confident that the Samajwadi
Party is set to win at least four of the five seats in the district
this time, Congress has a chance in the fifth. And no, they aren't
Yadavs either. One is Naveen Tripathi, a Brahmin, and his friend is
Mohammad Anis, a Muslim.

"Frankly," they tell us, "we were both backing the Congress this time.
We are no fans of Mulayam Singh Yadav or his son Akhilesh. But our
main objective this time is to defeat the BSP. Cycle ke liye lehar
nahin hai, is baar Baspa hatao ki lehar hai aur jo bhi baspa ko hara
sakta hai, usi ko log jitayenge (there is no wave in favour of the SP,
it is an anti-BSP wave and whoever is in a position to defeat the BSP
is getting all the votes)."

"And," they elaborate, "a couple of days before polling (on February
8), we realised that Congress candidate Amit Jaiswal was too weak to
defeat both the SP and the BSP. So we switched our vote to the SP."

But isn't there a danger of the return of SP's "goondagardi" that had
fuelled the Mayawati wave five years ago? "Yes," says Naveen, "we are
aware of that danger, though Mulayam has said he won't allow that to
happen this time. But if it does, we will vote them out too and bring
in the Congress next time. The Congress is waiting in the wings. We
all know that, don't we?"


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