Local hero Tewatia is choice of Bhatta & Parsaul

In May 2011, Congress General Secretary Rahul Gandhi sounded the bugle for the Uttar Pradesh election from Bhatta and Parsaul — two adjoining villages in Gautam Budh Nagar that had exploded in a frenzy of protests over alleged forced land acquisition by the Mayawati government.

Riding into the conflict zone on a motorcycle, and squatting on the ground in protest, Mr. Gandhi became the stuff of prime time television with his dramatic accusations against the incumbent regime. The State police had killed and burnt farmers and criminally assaulted the womenfolk, he told jostling camera crews. Thanks to the publicity, U.P. election 2012 got projected as a fight in the main between the Bahujan Samaj Party and the Congress, with the latter widely seen as having wrested the Opposition space from the Samajwadi Party.

And yet with elections just days away, the Jat majority villages in Bhatta and Parsaul in Western U.P. are lukewarm towards the Congress and the Gandhi son. Said a clutch of villagers in Bhatta: “The only good that came from Mr. Rahul's visit was that we could tell our story to the world and the police brutality stopped. But like every other politically motivated politician, Rahul too just exploited us.”

Among other things, Bhatta and Parsaul villagers expected Mr. Gandhi to throw his weight behind the promised Land Acquisition (amendment) Bill. “During the agitation here, Mr. Rahul promised to bring the amended land acquisition bill in Parliament. But when we went to meet him in Delhi, he passed on the blame to the Bharatiya Janata Party, accusing it of blocking the Bill. Why should we vote for him?” asked a member who was among the participants at a ‘havan' organised by the Sarvadal Kisan Sangarsh Samiti (SKSS) to mark the first anniversary of the farmers' protests.

Simmering anger

There is simmering anger in the village against the continuing incarceration of Manveer Singh Tewatia, local hero and leader of the protests who was charged with violence and locked up in the Dasna jail. “He is the real hero here. He stood by us when the police rained lathis and bullets on us. His family is suffering, his own life stands ruined, but unlike the political turncoats and opportunists, he refused to be bought over,”

The turn of events is unlikely to please the Congress which had hoped to use the Bhatta-Parsaul campaign as a springboard to launch itself into the election campaign. Indeed, Mr. Gandhi's visit to the two villages and his support to the agitating farmers in Tappal near Aligarh were all seen as the beginning of the party's war against Ms. Mayawati. Today, there is little visible support for the Congress, and almost no enthusiasm for Thakur Devendar Singh, the party's candidate from the Jewar Assembly constituency into which Bhatta and Parsaul fall.

On the other hand, the BSP, though deeply unpopular with the peasant castes, has managed to retain the support of the Dalit Jatavs estimated at about 10 per cent of the electorate. A large section of the Jat population in both villages is hoping that Mr. Tewatia will be given a ticket to contest. There is speculation that the Janata Dal United might field him as its candidate from Jewar. Curiously, farmers here are largely supportive of the Ajit Singh-led Rashtriya Lok Dal which recently joined hands with the Congress. Had the Congress left the seat to the RLD, it might have had better luck here. “For the Jats it is Tewatia first and then other parties and the BSP a complete no-no,” said Parsaul resident Jagdish Malik.

The farmers are also upset with the Bharatiya Kisan Union which is seen to have defected to the side of Ms. Mayawati. Asked who they will vote in the event Mr. Tewatia was not fielded as a candidate, villagers said that depended on which party satisfied them on their key demands: “We want the release of farmers still languishing in prison; the quashing of “false” cases against them; justice for the atrocities done on our women and early passage of the land acquisition law,” said Virpal Singh, a village elder.

Many in fact see elections as a way of getting back at the U.P government. “The scars are still fresh.” said Thakur Rajvir Singh, an SKSS member in Bhatta.

Similar sentiments are echoed in Parsaul. “Rahul betrayed us and the BJP and the SP have been indifferent. Tewatia who stood by us is being tortured and treated like a terrorist in jail,” said Mr. Malik.