Six kilometres from Akbarpur,the district headquarters of Rama Bai Nagar,is a Muslim-majority village that is thinking afresh about its traditional support to the Samajwadi Party.
Barah,part of the newly constituted Akbarpur Rania constituency,has around 11,000 voters,8,000 of those Muslim. They have been voting almost en bloc for the Samajwadi Party,with the BSP bagging most of the remaining votes. But now it is the Congress,so far a bit player,that seems to have caught the public fancy in a village that has seen little development.
Mohammad Majid,who runs a tailoring shop,says the SP had so far been Muslims choice because the Congress is weak and the BSP has been courting Dalits. Let us give Rahul Gandhi five years and see if he fulfils his promises. Others have failed, says Mohammad Ayub Hasan,who retired from Central Railway. And Mohammad Saeed says: The time has come for change.
The sitting MLA (from Sarvan Khera) is Ram Swaroop Singh Gaur,whom the Samajwadi Party has fielded again. Gaur was a BSP MLA when the SP was in power,and now that it is the other way round,his supporters have been saying that is why he couldnt develop the village. That cuts no ice with villagers.
Across 12 bastis,there is not a single overhead water tank,not a single good school. The only dispensary is one of Unani medicinel even there the doctor is absent. Roads are temporarily repaired before elections,then left to deteriorate again, Ayub says.
Power supply runs for six to eight hours at best. The government installed two hand-pumps but they are usually out of order. People use pumps installed privately,or approach hotel owners on the highway for water. Some villagers grow wheat,with paddy unsafe because of the Singoor river; others take up odd jobs or go for contract labour in factories of Rania,some distance away.
Villagers say Mulayam Singh Yadav came visiting twice,as he was on good terms with gram pradhan Hanif Pehalwan,whose daughters wedding he attended. They say his brother Shivpal Yadav and son Akhilesh,too,have been here. The visits stopped after Pehalwan died six years ago.
A village the Chief Minister visits twice should have developed a lot, muses Raees Alam,a tailor.
The Dalit minority,on the other hand,observes that politicians try to woo only the Muslims. The OBC population of Pals seems to favour the Congress because its candidate is Mathura Prasad Pal. He was with the BSP last time. He has won some more supporters by virtue of a school he has been running for the past few years on NH-2.
Akbarpurs MP,Raja Ram Pal,too is a Congress leader. People say he has never been seen in the area since he won in 2009.
The Khans and the Sheikhs of the village are open about preferring the Congress,while the Qureshis,who are from the backward classes among the Muslims,are divided between the Samajwadi Party and the Congress.
No party can give us food. But at least the SP talks about our interests, says Mohammad Khalil Qureshi. His neighbour,Mohammad Usman,also a Qureshi,says: Our children should get something better. We hope that Congress does something.
Villagers are unsure what to make of the Congresss promise of reservation for Muslims. My son is in BA second year, says Mohd Idris. We are forcing him to take up a drivers job. But if there were jobs for these youngsters…