| Uma Bharti cuddles a baby while campaigning at Kamalpur in Madhya Pradesh. (PTI)
Bada Malhara (Chhatarpur), Nov. 27: Barely a dot on the Madhya Pradesh map, this town had a knack of drawing attention for the wrong reasons — mostly for “fake” encounters staged by eager-beaver cops. The victims were landless Dalits or backward castes, too powerless to raise their voice against the establishment.
Today, Bada Malhara is in the news for the “right” reason: BJP chief ministerial candidate Uma Bharti is contesting from here. And if pre-poll opinion is a barometer, she would have a cakewalk despite a challenge from the CPI’s Kapoorchand Guwara, a former MLA known for “exposing” trigger-happy policemen.
A sample of the slogans that have brightened this grim place partially explain why the sadhvi is a runaway hit — Kshetra ka gaurav, desh ki shaan, Uma Bharti, kamal nishan (pride of the region, pride of the country, that is Uma Bharti, her symbol is the lotus) or Bundelkhand ki beti, Umaji ka hai paigam, jitni bijli, utna daam (Bundelkhand’s daughter Uma has a message, pay per power unit consumed, not more).
There is no reference to Bharti’s Hindutva moorings or her role in the Ayodhya “movement”.
The effort is to project her as a harbinger of development and progress in response to the popular sentiment against 10 years of Digvijay Singh’s rule.
As in the rest of Madhya Pradesh, poor power supply is the principal issue in Bundelkhand, spanning the districts of Sagar, Damoh, Panna, Chhatarpur and Tikamgarh in the centre and Morena, Bhind, Sheopur, Gwalior, Datia, Shivpuri and Guna in the north-west bordering Uttar Pradesh.
Pehelwan Singh Yadav, a farmer of Rajpura village on Bada Malhara’s periphery, spoke of how the four acres he owned was rendered useless because there was no electricity to run the irrigation pump.
“We get just enough water to drink and clean ourselves. For our land to be productive, we need at least eight hours of uninterrupted electricity. Now we don’t even get it for an hour. The four-month period between November and February is critical because that is the sowing season. We are doomed next year because of the power shortage,” he said.
If anti-Digvijay sentiments form one aspect of the people’s mood, the other is palpable pride in the fact that Bharti hails from Bundelkhand, is an OBC candidate and a woman. “All three are firsts. Although Bundelkhand accounts for 24 seats, it has never given a chief minister or even a deputy CM. The representatives in Digvijay’s cabinet are weak. Uma will also be MP’s first OBC chief minister,” stressed Bhagchand Jain, the BJP’s Chhatarpur block general secretary and her constituency manager.
So “Shree behan Uma Bharti” — Bada Malhara’s sobriquet for the sadhvi — has the assured support of not just her Lodhi caste, but the Yadavs, Kachis and Dhimars, whose votes were otherwise divided. “It has nothing to do with biradriwaad (casteism) but reflects a desire for change,” said Ram Swaroop of Kanera village.
But Babulal Kabadi, an associate of the CPI’s Guwara, argued that the “OBC factor” was a major determinant in this feudal region, where erstwhile rajas and jagirdars still called the shots. “We are not saying anything against Uma in our campaign for this reason,” he admitted.
Even the record of her brother, Swami Prasad Lodhi — who represented Bada Malhara for the last five years, quarrelled with his sister, nearly joined the Congress and was lured back by the BJP with a ticket from Pichoor — is brushed aside by the voters, as is Bharti’s maverick temperament.
“Suppose in a family there are two members, one becomes a collector and the other a peon, how can you compare them'” asked Jain, responding to allegations of non-performance against Lodhi.
As for Bharti’s propensity to quit ministership and leave for Kedarnath and Badrinath, farmer Yadav’s rationale was: “If the gods summon her, is she not supposed to answer them' May be this way she will work miracles for us.”