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Vindhya steeped in caste-based politics

Rewa district is overnight journey by rail from the State capital. It might as well have been light years away on the count of development.

india Updated: Nov 14, 2003 19:57 IST
Ambreesh

Rewa district is overnight journey by rail from the State capital. It might as well have been light years away on the count of development. Bordering Uttar Pradesh, it truly reflects the caste-based politics of the northern neighbour state.

Lack of development and political allegiance based on the factor of caste are some of the signature signs of the district. Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) struck roots in the district before it did anywhere in the State. After the exit of Phool Singh Baraiyya from the party, BSP’s two remaining MLAs in the Vidhan Sabha as on date still hail from the district.

BSP’s impressive strides in Rewa should have been a surprise for a casual observer because of its high percentage of Brahmin and Thakur populace. Since caste-based census was last held only in 1921, no definitive figures are available but political observers reckon that the district has almost 25 per cent Brahmin voters and Thakurs, only a shade less.

No wonder then that the mainstream political parties have traditionally fielded Brahmin and Thakur candidates in the seven seats of the district. What this has led to is the consolidation of the OBC Kurmi vote behind the BSP, which, to date, remains the formula for the Dalit outfit’s success. After all, its two sitting MLAs from the district are both Kurmis.

Then, Savarna Samaj Party (SSP), an outfit of upper castes came into being in the region, some say with the secret backing of the wily Arjun Singh. This time round, Samajwadi Party (SP), and OBC-based fringe parties like Apana Dal and Samanata Dal can also complicate the electoral equations with voters’ mood expected to consolidate only in the last week.

Mangawan

The non-descript constituency of Rewa district is in the news for all the wrong reasons. As Vidhan Sabha Speaker Sriniwas Tiwari hits the campaign trail, he will be fighting not only to save his own political backyard, but perhaps for his larger domain in the entire Vindhya region as well. It started with allegations of tampering with electoral rolls in Mangawan some months back.

The scrutiny into the voters’ lists revealed some startling things like registration of 1200-odd voters at one single address. Speaker’s critics– as much from within the Congress as from the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) - were quick to point fingers at him. The Speaker came out with all guns blazing, himself seeking a thorough revision of electoral rolls. But perhaps, he didn’t bargain for the level of revision exercise that the Election Commission was going to launch.

About 500 Government staff from other districts like Jabalpur and Mandla swooped in on Mangawan, going door-to-door to check the credentials of registered voters. On last count, 22,000 names were disputed. That Tiwari won the last time after a recount with the slimmest of margins doesn’t exactly help.

Tiwari, having flaunted his Brahmin credentials unabashedly, should have been counting on the community, which has a sizeable chunk of voters in the constituency. However, he has decided to go on the counter offensive, talking how the region’s pride was being hurt as his constituency was put under the scanner.

Now that the BJP has fielded a former communist Girish Gautam to beard the `white tiger’ in his own lair, the battle, more than the outcome, will be worth a watch.

Rewa

The scion of the erstwhile Royal family of Rewa, Pushparaj Singh, won here as an independent candidate supported by the Congress the last time round. The only urban constituency at the district headquarters, it again has Singh in fray, this time as an official party candidate. Anti-incumbency could be strong against him, especially as his victory margin was a bare 1200 votes in 1998.

The BJP has repeated its 1998 candidate Rajendra Shukla who came in second the last time round. Though the BSP has no presence in the constituency, the presence of strong SP candidate Kaushal Singh makes for an interesting three-cornered fight.

Sirmaur

The constituency returned Minister in the Digvijay Cabinet, Rajmani Patel, in the last Assembly elections. In his old days, Patel was a camp follower of the once-powerful Arjun Singh. He has more or less carved a niche of late as a Kurmi (OBC) leader in his own right. He was Speaker Tiwar’s foe for a long time before the exigencies of the elections ahead brought them together for a temporary truce, or so sources insist.

With anti-incumbency factor weighing against him, how he fares against CPM veteran Ramlakhan Sharma who came in second the last time round and is in fray again is largely unknown. BJP has replaced Kamleshwar Singh who came third in 1998 with Sudha Singh as its candidate. However, she’s a largely unknown political quantity.

Gurh

The Brahmin-dominated constituency has always thrown up mixed results. It’s one-time MLA from the Congress, Nagendra Singh, is now in the BJP and is contesting the seat on party ticket. Though the segment isn’t reserved, it returned sitting BSP MLA Vidyawati Patel in 1998 as well as 1993.

Congress candidate Omprakash Mishra who came in second has been replaced by Sadhna Kushwaha this time though her political credentials aren’t all that impressive. CPI’s Vishwambhar Pande who came in third the last time is again in the fray. Complicating the equation is Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) candidate Shivesh Shukla, who may angle for the Brahmin votes being the sole candidate from the community in the fray.

Mauganj

BSP has a strong presence in this constituency where the voters brought back Dr. IMP Verma to the Vidhan Sabha without much ado the last time round. He won the seat in 1993 as well. The Congress came in second in 1998 with its candidate Rakesh Ratan Singh being replaced by Speaker Tiwari’s niece Manjulata Tiwari being fielded this time. How much her candidature affects the party’s fortunes in an already crowded arena remains to be seen.

Upper Caste outfit Savarna Samaj Party chief Laxman Tiwari was third in the last election and he will flex his muscle again. The BJP candidate Santosh Sisodia trailed at the fourth spot in 1998. This time, the BJP candidate is a political greenhorn in Akhand Pratap Singh who left his police job only months back. How he copes in the company of seasoned politicians is a matter of conjecture.

Tyonthar

Party hopper Ramakant Tiwari won as a BJP candidate in 1998 and is being repeated by the party from the constituency. He had won as a Congress candidate in the 1993 election. However, he began his politics as a firebrand Socialist. BSP’s Ramgarib Kol who was second in the last election has again been made the party nominee.

Former Janata Dal MLA Ramlakhan Singh Tyothar, who was third and forced the Congress candidate to a distant fourth spot is also in the fray. Congress official nominee Ramashankar Mishra will have a tough time negotiating the pitfalls of multi-cornered fight.

Deotalab

The only reserved (SC) constituency of the district, it had returned one of the earlier BSP stars Jaikiran Saket twice. However, BJP’s Panchu Lal Prajapati wrested the seat for the first time in 1998. The party has repeated him again. Kurmi community based Apana Dal’s Binda Prasad was a surprising second with only a slender margin of defeat.

The party is fielding him again. The Congress has fielded Shrikrishna Maitreya this time after its candidate slid to the fourth position. A multi-cornered fight is expected in the constituency as Saket is again contesting after coming third in 1998.

First Published: Nov 14, 2003 19:57 IST