Bandits held sway in Chitrakoot district until very recently
Not very long ago a one-line ‘firman' (diktat) — “high command ka aadesh hai” (by order of the high command — would decide the electoral outcome in the dacoit-dominated Patha region of Chitrakoot district in backward Bundelkhand in Uttar Pradesh where voting goes along caste lines. The ‘high command' here was none other than the dreaded brigand, Shiv Kumar alias Dadua, who operated from the jungles of Patha for 35 years before he was gunned down in July 2007.
Another bandit, Ambika Patel alias Thokiya, whose area of operations extended to the ancient Kalinjar fort in neighbouring Banda district, also called the ‘shots' during the elections: his mother contested the 2007 polls from Naraini in Banda district. [He was killed in 2010]. Such was their power that candidates were selected by them, and people had to vote for them.
Now, for the first time in over three decades, the people are free to vote as they like. Superintendent of Police, Chitrakoot, Tehsildar Singh says, “in the last Zilla Panchayat elections none of the candidates supported by the brigands won, barring Dadua's daughter-in-law, who won from villages dominated by Kurmis.”
The officer said that with almost all the desperadoes eliminated since the 2007 Assembly elections, people could vote without fear in the coming polls [elections here will be held during the fourth phase on February 19].
In fact, it is the deeply ingrained caste factor, which allowed the brigands to hold sway. Himself a Kurmi, as was Thokiya, Dadua took advantage of the fact that the area is dominated by Kurmi OBCs, although the Kol tribals in the Patha area are also said to have backed him. Despite his criminal record (he had over 30 cases against him), Dadua donated generously to the Kols, who in turn provided him safe refuge in the jungles, says Lalu Dubey of Banda.
In this district, elections boil down to Kurmis versus the rest, including Brahmins, Yadavs and Scheduled Castes. Since most of the bandits were Kurmis, they could influence the elections. Dadua played a key role in ensuring the victory of Ram Sajeevan Singh, also a Kurmi, first as a CPI and then Bahujan Samaj Party MP from Banda.
In Karvi Assembly constituency in Chitrakoot, Dadua's son, Veer Singh Patel, has been fielded by Samajwadi chief Mulayam Singh. In his early 30s, Veer Singh is contesting on a caste plank, although he does refer to farmers' problems, and blames the Congress for the region's backwardness.
The Congress candidate from neighbouring Manikpur constituency and leader of ‘Gulabi Gang', Sampat Devi Pal, says she was hand-picked by Congress president Sonia Gandhi. The Gulabi Gang is a group of women vigilantes named after the pink sarees they wear. “I have empowered women, now I want to make them self-sufficient,” she says. Asked about her methods — the Gulabi Gang is known to storm police stations and thrash male policemen) — she denies taking the law into her hands.
She is locked in a triangular fight with former MP, Shyama Charan Gupta of the Samajwadi Party, better known as the “bidi king,” and Pushpa Mishra of the Bharatiya Janata Party. Manikpur is also a Brahmin dominated seat.
Keywords: UP Assembly polls