In Uttar Pradesh’s Bundelkhand region, an election is not the regular affair it is elsewhere in the country. Here, dacoit gangs led by Sudesh Patel alias Balkharia and Bauri Yadav get villagers out of bed in the dead of night and ‘canvass’ for candidates of their choice.
In Chamrauha village of Chitrakoot, a loudspeaker crackles to life at midnight and a booming voice orders the villagers to assemble near the panchayat building. This is the Balkharia gang calling, and the dacoits warn villagers of dire consequences if they don’t vote for a particular candidate.
With police looking the other way, the brigands are back in business in the largely arid region’s Banda and Chitrakoot districts, vying not only for votes but also a pie of the Rs 100-crore tendu leaf collection business. The leaves are used to make beedis.
A forest department official says Bundelkhand’s vast forest and mineral wealth is a goldmine for dacoits. “Not only tendu leaves, they have set their eyes on mining, construction and toll tax collection too. To continue their business, contractors have no option but to pay the dacoits,” he says.
Before their killing in 2007-08, Shiv Kumar Patel alias Dadua and Ambika Patel alias Thokia used to control the votes and tendu leaf collection business in Chitrakoot and parts of Banda district. Six years later, the dacoits have regrouped and started flexing their muscles again.
Says Chandrabhan Bode, a resident of Nehi village: “The police are not taking action against the dacoits as Dadua’s brother Balkumar Patel is the Samajwadi Party’s candidate for the Banda Lok Sabha seat. Dadua’s son Vir Singh, the sitting SP legislator from Chitrakoot, is leading his uncle’s campaign by reviving his father’s network.”
Superintendent of police (Banda) Arvind Sen Yadav, however, says a battalion of the Provincial Armed Constabulary (PAC) is camping in the forest area to thwart the dacoits.
Apprehending poll sabotage, Congress’ Banda nominee Vivek Singh has written to the election commission and demanded removal of Patel and Yadav community officers from election duty. Singh has accused the officers of not acting against the dacoits who are openly intimidating voters.