UP election: Road mishap digs potholes in Akhilesh’s ‘kaam bolta hai’ narrative
An accident, where a lorry laden with hay crushed a Dalit boy to death on February 18, threatens to tip over a politician’s fortunes this poll seasonassembly elections Updated: Mar 02, 2017 12:23 IST
A road accident snuffed out a life, and many dreams. It might cost a politician an election, too.
A lorry laden with hay overturned on one of the countless potholes dotting the main thoroughfare of an eastern Uttar Pradesh village, crushing to death a Dalit boy.
The accident on February 18 threatens to tip over a politician’s fortunes this poll season.
Gahmar, the country’s biggest village with about 4,400 families in Ghazipur district, erupted after the incident that left two people injured as well.
Driven by anger over their pockmarked and trench-like lifeline — the Tarighat-Bara highway — many villagers launched a violent protest. They torched and vandalised private and public property, including a police jeep, attracting an iron-fisted crackdown by the authorities.
The potholes, police action and public anger threaten to spoil the re-election bid of the Samajwadi Party’s Om Prakash Singh, a former tourism minister in chief minister Akhilesh Yadav’s council, at Zamania constituency in Ghazipur district.
The accident has galvanised against Singh the very people who had voted for him in 2012.
Also, it exposed faultlines in chief minister Yadav’s social engineering formula and holes in his “kaam bolta hai”, or work speaks for itself, narrative.
Anger and frustration over poor infrastructure were simmering at Gahmar, long before the truck keeled over. The accident lit the matchlock.
The 35km stretch from the Ghazipur district headquarters to Gahmar takes about two-and-a-half hours of bone-rattling travel on an apology of a road in a former tourism minister’s constituency.
Senior district administration officials reached the village several long hours after the incident. What came next was a midnight swoop on suspects in the village.
Police arrested BJP candidate Sunita Singh’s brother-in-law Raghuvir Singh and 14 more people associated with the party for the arson and vandalism, said Ajay Singh Gahmar, an elderly villager.
“This was done to create terror. About 2,000 youngsters fled the village for fear of police brutality,” he said.
Politics has taken over since. Villagers alleged the police highhandedness to senior officers belonging to the Yadav community. They also suspect poll candidate Singh’s hand.
The former minister couldn’t be contacted for his response, while officers at Gahmar police station dismissed the villagers’ charges.
The BJP was quick to seize the opportunity to rally people around Gahmar’s foremost grudge — poor infrastructure. An allegation that the Yadav government was favouring a particular caste became an add-on to escalate the tempo against the ruling SP.
The last time the BJP won Zamania constituency was in 1991. The seat has been an SP-BSP match for two-and-a-half decades. The BJP hopes to make it a triangular contest this time.
Of about 400,000 voters in Zamania, a third comprises Muslims and Dalits. There are an estimated 50,000 Yadavs. That makes Muslim votes crucial to both the SP and BSP.
The recent outrage has made the minority community rethink its options.
“Om Prakash had a good chance but people are turning against him. (BSP candidate) Atul Rai is also a strong contender. We haven’t decided anything yet,” a Muslim villager from Bara said.
The SP candidate could also face erosion in his party’s support base among the Yadavs.
“What has he done? You have seen the roads. You tell us,” said Lalji Yadav of Bhoksi village. “Daddan Pahalwan (a Bihar muscleman who has fielded his son as an independent candidate) will teach Om Prakash a lesson.”
The BJP is banking on the support of non-Yadav other backward classes (OBCs) and upper castes.
Farmer Rambachan Rajbhar has no love lost for any party, but has faith in Prime Minister Narendra Modi. “We are thinking of giving him a chance,” he said.
Similar narratives abound in eastern UP. Like the Tarighat-Bara highway, the road to Lucknow looks bumpy for politicians.