Caged, a bust of BR Ambedkar in Lalganj parliamentary constituency of eastern Uttar Pradesh bears a testimony to the caste-ridden politics of the state.
Two decades ago, there stood a life-size statue in the Dalit locality of Fariha village. It was installed in 1990 in this Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) stronghold — and then destroyed by unidentified miscreants.
The subsequent statues installed at the place met with the same fate for five times in a row. And now remains a foot-long bust. The administration and the local people have put a cage around it.
Here, on one side of the road, there is a Dalit locality. On the other, the rest of the village population lives. Right at the intersection, the stone bust can be seen holding the Constitution of India.
A group of villagers —young and middle-aged men — sits around the cage with their chappals off on Ambedkar's 123rd birth anniversary.
A Dalit youth is perched on the pedestal, busy giving Ambedkar a fresh coat of paint.
Asked why the paint, the eldest in the group, Ramadheen, replies, "It is Ambedkar Jayanti."
When asked about the cage, Ramadheen said, "To protect him (the statue). It has been shrinking over the years. Originally, it was a life-size statue, installed in 1990. Soon, some miscreants desecrated it.
"Then we installed another statute, then another, and did so six times. This one is the smallest of all —installed five years ago when behenji (Mayawati) was the chief minister. We had held a chakka-jaam at this spot in protest against the demolition."
Dr Baliram of the BSP is the sitting MP from the Lalganj reserved seat. He had won this seat in 1996 and 1999 as well. He is the candidate this time too.
When asked whether they would support the BSP this time, Akhilesh, an MBA student, says, "Yes. It's obvious. Even if we vote for the BJP, people will still say that we have voted for the BSP."
The BJP has never won this seat. The last time the Congress won it was in 1984. Neither BJP PM nominee Narendra Modi nor Congress president Sonia Gandhi or vice-president Rahul Gandhi have held rallies in Azamgarh district where Lalganj is one of the two constituencies.
When the SP announced Mulayam's candidature from Azamgarh, speculations were rife that Mayawati would respond by contesting the neighbouring Lalganj seat. But she did not.
There is a big talk in Lalganj that it's a straight fight between the SP and the BSP. The SP has a new candidate, Bechai Saroj.
Lalganj goes to polls on May 12.