Earlier this week, a thousand men and women had gathered at Vindhyavasini temple in Lalitpur for reasons that were not religious.
With Bundelkhand’s revered goddess as witness, Thakur strongman Sujan Singh Bundela, who contested as an independent in 2009 but supports the SP now, read out a pledge in support of a candidate and the crowd parroted him.
“The pledge-takers cannot go back on their words. An oath inside the Vindhyavasini Dham temple seals all routes to doubt,” says Anand Sahu, businessman and regular visitor to the temple.
The pledging appears to have unsettled the BJP. At Narendra Modi’s rally here on Sunday, party candidate Uma Bharti said rival parties were using the fear factor to make people pledge support. “Several leaders are sprinkling Gangajal on villagers and making the promise not to vote for BJP. These are the very people who destroyed the sanctity of the river,” she said.
‘Loyalty pledges’ have been a tradition in Bundelkhand since the 1950s. “Dacoits sought allegiance from people within their community who were at odds with them, like the rulers did,” says RB Maurya, who teaches at BK Degree College.
Candidates and their campaigners appear to have given this tradition a political colour this election. “All sorts of tactics are being used to get votes. People with considerable influence among castes and communities are being approached. If they agree to lend support, they are asked to take the pledge. This is a guarantee they will not become turncoats,” says Lalitpur-based social activist Rajesh Dubey.
In Jhansi, an MLA gathered hundreds of Brahmins for a ‘thali ceremony’ last week. A big brass plate with a lamp on it was passed around and every single person present there pledged his vote to a chosen candidate with his hand above the flickering flame. The pledge-takers were from ‘good’ families having a say in the community.
“Their task is cut out — they won’t allow the voters to drift from their line,” says Dubey.
A BSP candidate was recently in the news for a similar exercise at the Sufi shrine of Hazrat Khwaja Meer Sayyad Muhammad Tirmizi in faraway Kalpi. He was eying the Muslims of the area, who had by and large cold-shouldered his party in the last election. In return for their allegiance, he swore at the shrine to work for the welfare of the community.
Says Haji Arshad Ahmad Siddiqui, who runs an ice-cream parlour close to the shrine: “I am curious to see if he stands by his vow or behaves like a politician.”
Jhansi is represented by Congress’ Pradip Jain ‘Aditya’, who the party has fielded again. Apart from BJP’s Bharti, his rivals are Anuradha Sharma of BSP and Chandrapal Singh Yadav of SP.