Mayawati's social engineering of 2007 seems to be unravelling
Often referred to as the backyard of Uttar Pradesh, Bundelkhand is only occasionally in the news. But on occasions such as Rahul Gandhi's visit, and the subsequent announcement of a Rs 7,000-crore package, this drought-prone, poverty-ridden region, bordering Madhya Pradesh, makes it to the headlines.
Even when fields go dry for lack of irrigation or when farmers commit suicide after a failed crop makes them unable to repay loans, which has become an annual feature, the region doesn't seem to attract attention. For, no matter how much money is allocated, nothing ever reaches the region.
However, of late, Bundelkhand is a media hot-spot. Four major political parties are doing their best to make inroads into this Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) bastion; the party had swept 14 Assembly seats out of 19 from the region last time. The remaining seats were shared between the Samajwadi Party and the Congress while the Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) drew a blank.
Rahul Gandhi, Akhilesh Yadav of the SP and Uma Bharti of the BJP are the key campaigners. But the outcome is likely to hinge on the voters, who split from the BSP.
Rahul Gandhi made several visits to this region from 2007 onwards – travelling to backward districts, meeting people, criticising the BSP for failing to develop the region and eventually making the Planning Commission announce a huge Bundelkhand package to win over the people who had voted for the BSP in the previous elections to be rid of the “terror” unleashed by Samajwadi Party supporters.
“But this time the situation for the BSP is not going to be easy. Her social engineering of bringing together the Other Backward Classes and forward classes is falling apart,” says Mukund Mehrorta, a social worker. There is a general feeling that Mayawati only helped the Dalits, and that too, at the cost of other castes, which has not gone down well, explains Mehrotra. And the result: non Dalits are moving away from the BSP this time.
The dispersed non-Dalit, particularly the Kushwaha votes, will be a loss to the BSP but they are unlikely to vote en bloc for any one party. The Muslim vote will be divided between the SP and the Congress while the presence of Uma Bharti in the region could attract some OBC and Kushwaha votes to the BJP in addition to the BJP's existing voters.
Another factor that could go against the BSP is large-scale re-shuffling of candidates and discontinuation of schemes such as the ‘Kanya Vidya Dhan Yojana' under which girls who passed Class XII would get Rs 20,000 and unemployment allowance of Rs 500 a month to the youth. While the Congress' prospects are damaged by infighting, Uma Bharti's presence has livened the election mood. For Congress and the BJP, every seat is crucial as both strive to build up their strength. The SP is projecting itself as a young party with Akhilesh Yadav being the star campaigner promising jobs, higher educational institutions and a clean administration. “Akhilesh is popular among the masses. He is a home grown lad and we can relate to him,” the villagers say. When asked about Rahul's frequent visits to U.P., in particular Bundelkhand, the response is: “He comes but nothing happens on the ground. He came with a package but who benefited from it?” farmer Des Raj asks.
“Akhilesh is a regional leader but Rahul Gandhi is a national leader. You have to keep this difference in mind before making any assessment of popularity,” says Birendra Bundela, Congress candidate from Lalitpur, who was until recently with the Samajwadi Party.
“It is difficult to say who the people will vote for,” says Dr Vijay Khaira, an NCP candidate who is banking on ‘aggarwal' votes in Jhansi. Caste is an important factor in the State and a bulk of the votes are decided on the basis of caste.