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Waiting for Rahul to deliver

The Congress scion’s yatra has not been a waste. It has won him support, but its impact will only be known once the results come out. Vinod Sharma and Sunita Aron report. Poll battle enters Jat land

india Updated: Feb 28, 2012 02:34 IST
Congress-general-secretary-Rahul-Gandhi-addresses-an-election-rally-in-Dadri-PTI-Atul-Yadav
Congress-general-secretary-Rahul-Gandhi-addresses-an-election-rally-in-Dadri-PTI-Atul-Yadav

The Bahujan Samaj Party’s reactionary pitch of yore that helped it appropriate the Dalit vote in UP is being turned upside down.

In the belt running parallel to the under-construction Taj expressway, which triggered a massive land row, it’s hard to miss the upper-caste assertion for the primacy they lost to scheduled castes under Mayawati — “Tilak, taraju aur talwar, nahin sahenge atyachar”. The graffiti is an improvisation of the original BSP catch-phrase, which charged up its “bahujan samaj” base against pernicious upper-caste dominance: “Tilak taraju aur talwar, inko maro jutey chaar.”

A backlash of sorts it certainly is against Mayawati’s autocracy. The sentiment’s palpable in the agrarian belt, which saw the peasantry rise in revolt last May against poor compensation for acquired land.

Consequently, the seductive 2007 call ‘Hathi nahin Ganesh hai, Brahma, Vishnu Mahesh hai’, which fetched Mayawati 66 of the 134 west UP seats, could be history. For the forward castes, the present is a reminder of the distant past when the BSP’s anti-elite campaign turned the perceived exploiters of the Dalits into the exploited.

Mayawati’s seen as having failed twice over. She ruled without devolving power at the top; at the grassroots her party workers disregarded the rainbow that had lit up the BSP’s social horizons.

Memories sustain of the police onslaught on farmers at Tappal and Bhatta Parsaul. Rahul Gandhi’s rally in the area last Thursday rekindled demands for the land acquisition law the UPA put on hold under pressure from Mamata Banerjee.

Ironically, the sole seat Mamata’s party can think of winning in UP is in the neighbourhood. At Mant, the fight’s between the Trinamool’s Shyam Sunder Sharma, a six-time sitting MLA (mostly as an independent candidate), and RLD chief Ajit Singh’s son and Mathura MP Jayant Chaudhary.

Jayant might pull through eventually. On the ground, his campaign has been hurt badly by his Jat clansmen. Their aggressive numbers (about 100,000) and behaviour are polarising other castes the way they’ve combined against the BSP’s Dalits elsewhere. “Jayant can lose. He’s inaccessible as an MP and Sharma forever available as an MLA,” remarked sports instructor Sultan Singh at Mant.

He said Sharma was no political lightweight, his image as Mathura’s Chanakya an endorsement of his formidable reputation.

Having waited long enough, people care little for coalition compulsions. They want early results and easy access to elected representatives. “Rahul should keep his promise, address issues delaying realisation of the land acquisition and compensation law,” says Yogendra Singh, gram pradhan of Sarol in Aligarh’s Khair seat. Rahul visited the village during his 100-km padyatra along the expressway.

Its residents remember the journey that caught the media’s fancy. But they’re impatient over the gap between Rahul’s intent and legislative action.

Supported by several others, Singh said there was no need to count votes in his village where 60% of the electorate were Jats. “The Congress-RLD combine’s winning the seat,” he assured, adding: “We wouldn’t let Mayawati enter here. We want Jayant as CM and Rahul as PM.”

A short stretch away is Brahmin-dominated Alawalpur with only four Jat families and 10 of Jatavs. More measured than aggressive, Ramvir Sharma, at whose house Rahul spent time, betrayed preference for the Congress-RLD and palpable disenchantment for the BSP, which he voted in 2007.

As the BSP’s Jatav votes are intact, he said: “Here it’s either haath or haathi (the Congress or the BSP).” The scene’s different at Kishorepur, another Jewar village with a combination of Baghels, Prajapatis, Jatavs and Yadavs.

“People are voting on caste lines, not for development,” said Sardar Khan, lamenting “zero vikas” in villages up for acquisition for building an international airport.

Rahul’s yatra hasn’t been a waste. It has won him support, the exact measure of which will be known when the results are out. His refrain in the region: “Where were they (SP and BSP) when you needed them most?”

After the Allahabad high court scrapped land acquisition in three villages last year, the SP’s Akhilesh Yadav undertook a cycle yatra from Noida to Agra. But his outreach isn’t recalled the way Rahul’s is. The SP’s in the reckoning for the Muslim vote. But nobody knows what’ll happen on the voting day, the party lacking here the sizeable base vote of the Yadavs it has in other UP regions where it’s a force.

Bijendra Sharma of Budhaka-Madhya is offended by Mayawati’s exclusive rule in violation of an overwhelmingly inclusive 2007 vote. Having hosted Rahul during his yatra, he said he’d vote the Congress for the first time since 1989. “He sat here on the cot, promising us justice. I trust him,” he said.

The land issue reverberates across assembly seats bearing Rahul’s footprints: Gautam Budh Nagar (Bhatta Parsaul), Jewar, Khair and Mant.

People are incensed at the Centre’s failure to legislate on enhanced compensation for land. But the anger’s deeper against Mayawati, who’s down but not exactly in the dumps.





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