Gaurav Vivek Bhatnagar reports on the four-cornered contest brewing in Firozabad
In this “city of glass and bangles,” it is said that people breathe not air, but glass. And in this election, the two main contenders in Firozabad are big-time businessman, who made their millions from this very trade. One of them is sitting Bahujan Samaj Party MLA Nasiruddin's son Khalid Siddiqui; the other is the Congress candidate Azad Akram. The other two significant contenders are social worker and former MLA Azim Bhai of the Samajwadi Party and Chairman of Municipal Committee Manish Ashija of the BJP.
Incidentally, during the 2009 Lok Sabha by-elections, Congress candidate Raj Babbar had taken on his former Samajwadi Party boss Mulayam Singh's daughter-in-law Dimpy Yadav and defeated her by 85,343 votes, in a seat that had been vacated by her husband Akhilesh.
But that was then; it's a different battle now. Some insist that Babbar had little say in the elections this time despite being the sitting MP. “He has not played any part in ticket distribution. We got our ticket from the party high command,” asserts the Congress candidate's nephew Mohammad Abuzar.
Abuzar says this election is all about image. “People are looking for new faces, who are honest and development-oriented.” The fight this time, he says, is between the Congress and the BJP, which among the four leading parties is the only one to field a Hindu candidate. “People have rejected the SP and BSP as these two parties promote casteism,” he says.
However, BSP supporters have a different take. Hori Lal, a resident of Jatau village, says, “to us Dalits, the issue of our security and dignity is foremost. We used to suffer oppression from Yadavs and Thakurs earlier but all that stopped after Behenji [Mayawati] came to power. Many of the hoodlums are now behind bars under the Goondas Act and we do not live in constant fear of being harassed or assaulted.”
While saying that people are wary of the Samajwadi Party because of the upsurge in muscle power during its term in power, BSP workers admit that the SP remains their main rival. “But we are confident of the BSP winning since it has worked for all communities and taken up massive development works.”
“Cement roads have been laid in Dalit-dominated villages and electricity has also reached them,” says Surya Kant, a cement shop owner and resident of Tundla Crossing.
Though two glass tycoons are in the fray, the plight of the 30,000 people engaged in the industry continues to be lamentable, with no social security net for them.
Dhool Chand, who moved to Firozabad from his native Kannauj in search of a job, says there is no one to look after workers like him if they fall ill or do not report to work.
One of the many casual workers in the area who take bunches of half-split bangles home and then fuse the ends before taking them back to the factories, he says exploitation of workers is rampant and they are paid meagre wages. “I take these sets of 325 split bangle pairs home and fuse them. It takes about an hour for every set and we are paid just Rs 15 for this job and the factory owner pockets Rs 1.50 margin as commission.”
Another worker, Bhola, who lives near Jain Mandir, says that this is why a large number of workers vote for the Left parties.
The Communist Party of India (Marxist) polled 13,743 votes in the 2007 Assembly election here. “At least they raise issues concerning us and do not let the businessman go unchecked.”