Picturesque town in Bundelkhand has high expectations of Uma Bharti
Picturesque Charkhari has been called the ‘Kashmir of Bundelkhand,' and a ‘mini Vrindavan,' among other things. This pretty town in Mahoba district remained with Uttar Pradesh at the request of Govind Vallabh Pant, even though a major chunk of land in its environs went to Madhya Pradesh during the reorganisation of States. Unfortunately, though, Charkhari never got anything more.
Now the people of this small town — bordering Tikamgarh and Khajuraho in Madhya Pradesh — are suddenly in the national news. And they have none other than their ‘Didi' Uma Bharti to thank for this. Ever since the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) announced Uma Bharti as its candidate from the Charkhari Assembly constituency, it has been in the media spotlight.
It is for the first time that the neglected Bundelkhand region is finding out what it means to have a big leader in the electoral fray. “People here feel proud that Uma Bharti has chosen Charkhari as her constituency. They also have lots of expectations,” says Pradeep Kumar, a local journalist as we drive down the narrow lanes and by-lanes of this town, which has a substantial Muslim population.
Home to 108 temples — most in ruins now — and dozens of water bodies, Charkhari was a culturally rich princely state before Independence. Its royal family, which still has some influence over the local population, has also decided to back Uma Bharti. “We are helping her logistically,” Jayant Singh Judeo of the royal family tells The Hindu.
The seat has been de-reserved for the first time since 1967, which paved the way for Uma Bharti to contest from here; people are hoping she will make it to the U.P. Assembly. She is competing with 18 other contestants including Kaptan Singh of the Samajwadi Party, Choudhury Dhu Ram Lodhi of the Bahujan Samaj Party and Ram Jeevan Yadav of the Congress. The seat was with Anil Kumar Ahirwar (BSP) who has been shifted to the adjoining Rath reserved constituency. Voters have a grouse against him because he never stayed overnight here after he was elected.
The BJP is banking heavily on the Lodh votes, an OBC caste that dominates the constituency, and to which Uma Bharti also belongs. Of 3.08 lakh voters, some 65,000 are Lodh, followed by Brahmins, Kushwahas and Raikwars. The latter are expected to vote for the BJP as the controversial Babu Singh Kushwaha [the BJP was forced to ask him to leave the party after a controversy] has been campaigning silently for the BJP. Acting around under the banner of the Parivartan Manch, he has been holding informal meetings with Kushwaha groups asking them to support the BJP.
The 15,000-odd Muslim votes are likely to be divided between the Samajwadi Party and the Congress, which will indirectly help the BJP. Reservation for Muslims announced by the Congress has not had much impact on the voters here, who are more concerned about day-to-day matters.
“Charkhari's biggest problem is bad governance. Things will improve if we get good roads and the town is promoted as a tourist destination as Uma Bharti has promised in her campaign. More money will come in and there will be more jobs. We feel she can do it,” Judeo says confidently.
Dismissing arguments of her being an outsider in Charkhari, her supporters point out her association with the town since she was seven when she visited as a ‘katha vachak.'
“We have told her, this seat is hers and she should campaign for the BJP in the rest of U.P. Just see the way party workers are enthused and got together burying their personal differences. All are working for her,” says Yogesh Mishra, BJP city president.