Few regions will test Mayawatis Dalit politics and governance record as sternly as Agra,the province the British had unified with Oudh to form United Provinces,now Uttar Pradesh.
This is one region where Mayawati has not replaced her incumbent MLAs as she has done elsewhere. To meet the challenge from a resurgent Congress-RLD alliance and the Samajwadi Party,each striving to register its presence in Agra district,she will bank on the way her government has developed Agra city,though such measures have upset some voters as deeply as they have pleased others.
These include the soon-to-be-opened Yamuna Expressway that will provide another fast link to Delhi; power reforms with distribution handed over to a private company,Torrent Power Ltd; an upcoming,Rs 1,000-crore,20km ring road; a leather park; and a leather shoe mandi.
Measures born out of Dalit politics have included strengthening the Bhim Nagari Samaroh Samiti that not only observes Bhimrao Ambedkars birth anniversary but also undertakes various projects in bastis that are predominantly Dalit.
When we started the Bhim Nagari project in 1996,we got projects only worth Rs 1 lakh. Thanks to Behnji,the work done last year was worth Rs 70 crore, says Dharmendra Soni,organising committee treasurer. Work in Naripura locality this year has been suspended because of the election code of conduct.
Soni admits,however,that the event is seen as a BSP fest,largely because of the leaders who take the stage. This has,in turn,has endeared mayawati more than ever to Dalit voters.
I will vote for the BSP, says Sanjay Prajapati of Naripura. They will get all our votes, echoes Jyoti Prasad. The Congress has broken our backs with inflation.
Non-Dalit voters,on the other hand,cite the governments projects to express their disillusionment. This Torrent,they have sent power bills climbing, says Mohammed Haroon,a daily wager in Deveretha,a Bhim Nagari locality developed in 2010.
Though he agrees his area has developed,he says,Last time we voted for the BSP; this time will go with either the SP or the Congress. Such a mood was reflected among many voters in neighbouring Azampada locality,dominated by Muslims.
As of now,the resentment does not appear consolidated enough to challenge Mayawati. The Muslims are still divided between the Congress and the SP,and the Brahmins between the BJP and the Congress,at least to an extent.
Agra has nine seats,six with the BSP,two with the BJP and the ninth with a Jan Morcha candidate,then backed by Raj Babbar but now with the BSP.
Going by the renomination of all but one of her legislators the exception was prompted by the conversion of that seat from reserved to general Mayawati appears confident as ever in the work done. Outside of Agra,she has replaced over half her legislators to beat anti-incumbency.
The BJP has been asserting its presence within the city,challenging the BSP in Agra Cantonment,Agra South and Agra North. The Congress-RLDs challenge is in rural Fatehpur Sikri and Kheragarh. The SP has borrowed local BJP faces,Raja Aridaman Singh (Bah),his wife Rani Pakshalika Singh (Khergarh) and MLA Rajendra Singh (Fatehabad).
Aridaman Singh,who lost as a BJP candidate last time,is now the SP candidate in Brahmin-dominated Bah,where he is banking on swinging the Lodh-Rajput and Gaderia votes to challenge the BSPs Brahmin candidate,who still looks well placed.
Etmadpur,the seat de-reserved,is seeing a spirited battle between the BSP and the SP,with the latters hopes pinned on the sizeable presence of its candidates Gaderia community,on Yadavs,and on those disgruntled with the BSP. The ruling partys candidate,Dharampal Singh,is wary also of the Congress-RLDs Thakur candidate,who might poach on his own Thakur base,and has therefore been wooing Other Backward Classes like Kushwahas and Teli-Baniyas.
The RLD candidate is its state president Baba Hardev Singh,a former bureaucrat who served in the region years ago. He is hoping the goodwill he earned then will translate into votes across the SP,BSP and BJP bases. Baba is a very nice and honest man,but not having a vote bank will leave him trailing a bit, says Ram Prakash Rathore,a Teli-Baniya in Etmadpur town.