Narrow, dusty mud roads strewn with garbage welcome visitors to Nehri, a village in Bundelkhand’s Banda district that gained fame after Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi came calling in 2009, following suicides by farmers reeling under drought and debt.
Sharing a meal with the Dalit family of Johri Lal, whose brother Bhagwati Prajapati died of hunger, Gandhi had promised a special relief package for the region. Eight years later, benefits of a raft of measures, including the Rs 7,266-crore Bundelkhand package announced by the then UPA government and the Samajwadi drought relief ration scheme that CM Akhilesh Yadav announced last year, seem to have eluded Bundelkhand that goes to poll on February 23.
Johri Lal, 75, makes earthen vessels for a living. “Netas come visiting… Rahul Gandhi aaya, dal chawal kha ke chala gaya (Rahul Gandhi came, left after eating rice and daal) but our situation has only worsened. My son has migrated to Ghaziabad because there are no jobs here. He rarely sends us money as he has a family to feed. Now, I am the only earning member for a family of six. Should I be doing this (making vessels) at this age? Tell me why I should vote?” Lal asks.
The disenchantment with politicians is palpable in the region, one of the most backward in the country. In 2014, the village, with a voting population of over 3,100 along with over two dozen other adjoining villages, pressed the “None of the above” (NOTA) button during Lok Sabha elections.
Of the 19 assembly seats in Bundelkhand, Banda has four. Two of the sitting MLA are from Congress, one each from SP and BSP. “We will vote this time, not for a party but the candidate who promises to help us. A collective decision will be taken a day before polls. The SP has done precious little in the last five years. The CM last year announced that each poor family will get free ration supply. But we did not get anything,” said Bhaiyya Ram.
Gandhi had visited Bundelkhand again in January last year when he undertook a padyatra. At that time, he had blamed SP for the plight of farmers. Soon after, Akhilesh visited Mahoba and Chitrakoot to give ration to a few families affected by drought.
Question them about the upcoming elections and the anger among villagers is palpable. “My daughter stopped going to school because I could not pay her fees. My brother-in-law, the sole earning member, committed suicide in 2015 as he could not repay his debt,” said Maina Devi, 40.