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Behenji vs everyone in poll race

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By RADHIKA RAMASESHAN
  • Published 10.02.12
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Mayawati at a rally in Allahabad on Thursday. (AP)

Chunar (Mirzapur), Feb. 9: Pyarelal Prajapati, the chief of the BSP in this ancient town,replete with mythological and historical resonance, sounded sagely and detached towards his party.

He quoted a Biblical aphorism: “As you sow, so (shall) you reap.”

Asked for whom the saying was meant, Prajapati, in a BSP blue tracksuit, paused and said: “Behenji.”

“She has not used her mandate fully. She did for the Dalits what the Gandhi-Nehrus never did in so many decades. But there are serious flaws. The fruits of the schemes meant for the Dalits have not been uniformly distributed. Some Dalits have had to bribe to get houses under the Kanshi Ram housing project even though it was their rightful entitlement.”

Asked how the palpable disenchantment would impact voters, Prajapati answered: “The Samajwadi’s winning here.”

Some 45km away in a village near Varanasi called Ludhangar, Hori Lal, a retired government employee and a Jatav like Mayawati, appeared fatalistic. “It’s everybody versus Behenji. The rest can’t stomach her pro-Dalit agenda. She’s being sacrificed for us. We hope she will rise again. Otherwise the BSP’s mission will regress by 10 years.”

Across the Poorvanchal region — from Allahabad eastwards to Varanasi, Mirzapur, Gorakhpur, Deoria and Salempur — voters are openly speaking about an “oust Mayawati” campaign being under way.

In the cacophany of voices that work themselves to an anti-Mayawati crescendo — usually from every caste, forward, backward and intermediate — there is one in support of the BSP chief. It is the voice of a BSP cadre member, usually a Jatav, struggling to make a point that the others are unprepared to take. Despite many of them admitting they voted the BSP in 2007.

None of Mayawati’s detractors can explain cogently the reasons for the turnaround.

In a marketplace at Tarkuluwan Bazar in Deoria, Ram Pratap, a Jatav, declared screaming: “History will be kinder to Mayawati than her fair-weather supporters. She has integrated 22 per cent of the most oppressed population into the political mainstream. People who were intimidated by the Rajputs and Jats from voting now walk to the booths, heads held high.”

Abdul Qayoom Khan and Surinder Yadav, Samajwadi backers, cut him midway. “Enough, you’ve had your say and your way for five years. Your Behenji has only worked for Dalits. To the rest of us, she has brought misery: corruption, petty and big, urea at black market rates, an unresponsive administration,” Yadav said.

The manifest “gang-up” against Mayawati, as her votaries call it, is translating itself into a surge of support for Samajwadi chief Mulayam Singh Yadav across the eastern region containing 111 of the 403 Assembly seats.

If his Yadavs, in an unprecedented display of solidarity, are out to prove they can equal, if not surpass, Mayawati’s Dalit power, in several places the upper castes, including the Brahmins and the Banias — the former’s allegiance so far veered between the Congress and the BJP — have rooted for the Samajwadi. They hardly have a choice because the Congress and the BJP are not seen as strong enough contenders.

“It marks the arrival of a new social coalition of the BYM, Brahmins-Yadavs-Muslims,” said Jai Prakash Rana, the block pramukh of Buxa Bazar in Jaunpur, near Varanasi. He added: “In 2007, the Brahmins went to the BSP because of Satish Mishra (who had crafted a new Brahmin-Dalit axis). Like Dhritirashtra, he has blinded himself to the realities. The Congress and the BJP are not strong enough options. So Brahmins are trying out Mulayam this time,” Rana said.

Rajneesh Shukla, who teaches comparative philosophy in Varanasi’s Sampooranand University and is counted as a resource person on east Uttar Pradesh for some of Delhi’s best known psephologists, did a reality check and explained that the so-called BYM axis was post-facto reasoning by the Brahmins to justify what he said was a “one-election tactic to choose a lesser evil over a greater one”.

Observers recalled the visceral hatred Brahmins had harboured towards Mulayam in the Ayodhya era and never fully shed their antipathy despite his outreach endeavours towards the community.“The Brahmins are not a political vote-bank, they are choosy. The Samajwadi has not given a structure to integrate social groupings like the BSP had. If there is a Samajwadi candidate with a solid Muslim-Yadav core vote, and if the Brahmin vote polarises the electorate against Mayawati, he will win,” Shukla said.

To fortify his flanks, Mulayam has evidently left nothing to chance. The Yadavs, who in the past either rebuffed the Samajwadi’s Muslim candidates out of pro-Hindu feelings or voted caste nominees from other parties, have been told by community elders that if they were caught voting a non-Samajwadi person, they would be socially ostracised.

To end with another vignette from Chunar.

The out-of-work cell, tasked with distributing the monthly unemployment doles in the Mulayam regime, has reportedly restarted the apparatus and begun listing applicants. Mayawati had scrapped the scheme which is now costing her the youth votes.