My heart belongs to the elephant

My heart belongs to the elephant

Seema Upadhyay walks through Kalwari.
This seat is one of Mayawati’s laboratories for social engineering, a euphemism for cold caste arithmetic.

The village of Kalwari in Fatehpur Sikri constituency is a civic nightmare. Water shortage is a major problem here; open drains cut through village lanes; fetid garbage heaps abound. Amid this arrives the local MP, Seema Upadhyay of the Bahujan Samaj Party, accompanied by drumbeats. As she passes them by, the villagers grumble, but behind her back. But they would not vote for any other party. "My heart says that vote for elephant, but what do we do?" asks a woman dramatically. Kalwari is a village populated by Jatavs, Mayawati's caste brethren and her captive vote bank, which will not desert her even if her candidate is a Brahmin.

Fatehpur Sikri is one of Mayawati's laboratories for social engineering, a euphemism for cold caste arithmetic. Jatavs, Brahmins and Jats number around 180,000 to 2 lakh each here. According to BSP calculations Seema Upadhyay will get a major chunk of Brahmin votes. The Thakurs number around two and a half lakh, but, as a BSP leader hopes, "Their vote will get divided among the Thakur candidates." The Thakurs in the fray are Samajwadi Party's Rani Pakshalika Singh and RLD's Amar Singh. However, the fight here is primarily between Upadhyay and BJP's Chaudhary Babulal, a controversial Jat leader who left Ajit Singh's Rashtriya Janata Dal to join the saffron outfit.

Upadhyay says that caste is not her primary concern. It is development. She counts the 100% utilisation of MPLAD funds, giving 3,500 tube well connections, getting mobile towers erected along the border with Rajasthan, among her achievements. She is campaigning hard, visiting 15-16 villages a day. But all is not quiet on the BSP front. One of their MLAs has defected to the SP and Upadhyay admits that she is worried about Bah and Kheragarh Assembly segments. These two seats are the stronghold of Raja Mahendra Aridaman Singh, a minister in the Akhilesh Yadav government and the husband of the SP candidate, Pakshalika Singh. "The Raja, who is MLA from Bah, gets booths captured," she alleges.

Similar allegations are voiced by the BJP's state secretary, Ram Pratap Singh. However, he adds that the BSP took full advantage of having a government in Lucknow in 2009 and resorted to malpractice to help Upadhyay win. Ch Babulal, who returns from an intensive campaigning, talks about the "phenomenal" welcome he received in Bah, especially from youngsters. Ram Pratap Singh thinks caste equations are breaking down when confronted with demands for development. "Our message is clear. Make Narendra Modi Prime Minister," says Babulal.

But Babulal's strongman reputation is not helping him on the ground.

"His behaviour is not good toward his people," is the chorus from some Thakurs in Bichpur village. Earlier, a hotel bellboy, a Jat, voiced similar sentiments. "We want Modi as Prime Minister, but Modi will not come to solve our problems. We will have to go to Babulal."

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