Sripal was not at home when The Indian Express visited Kripalpur,one of six villages near Tappal that had seen clashes between the police and the villagers over land acquisition in August 2010. Sripals 13-year-old son had died,allegedly in police firing.
The incidents political potential led to visits by Ajit Singh,Shivpal Yadav and Rajnath Singh. Then Rahul Gandhi visited the protest site manned by Manveer Singh Teotia,as well as Sripal at his home,getting drenched in the rain in the process. His visit to the Jatav-dominated village was seen as a master-stroke and appreciated by villagers.
Two-and-a-half years on,a lot has changed. The village walls are now painted with slogans about the UPAs flagship NREGS. Almost all interior roads are paved in concrete,with the rest nearing completion,and with drainage facilities alongside each stretch.
On the outer periphery,one of the last of the stretches is being set in concrete near Sripals house. Sripal has moved to a new house with large iron gates,building it from the compensation for his land and other amounts he received.
Though Sripal was not home,the signs from other villagers were that the community would stick to the BSP. I cannot speak on behalf of Sripal,but my understanding is he would vote the way all of us vote,for the elephant, says Chandrapal,a Jatav whose son was a friend of Sripals slain son. Many other Jatav villagers nodded; they felt he had guessed Sripals choice correctly.
Rahulji is a good person… We have moved on, said a villager,pressed to explain their choice after the BSP administrations actions led to deaths in 2010. Anyway,nobody will believe us if we vote otherwise, said another.
Kripalpur is part of Khair,a reserved constituency,which the RLD is contesting in alliance with the Congress,and in a direct fight with the BSP. The Congress-RLD alliance is banking on its Jat support base.
Some 10km from Jewar,where Rahul Gandhi addressed a rally last week,Nutan Teotia went about Handa-Nagla village seeking support for her husband Manveer Singh Teotia,who is now in jail for the Bhatta-Parsaul agitation. With his wife was a group of Jat women,faces covered in veils.
In contrast to the three helicopters that flew Rahul,Jayant Chaudhary and Sachin Pilot to the rally,the campaigners in the village travelled in vehicles arranged or managed for them. One was a Bolero jeep,bought with donations from villagers of Zikarpur,which Rahul visited in August 2010.
Some villagers sounded frustrated with Rahul. We could not field Teotia from Khair as it has become reserved, said Dev Dutt,a Jat. That is why we got him to contest from Jewar. We will support him,not Rahuls candidate. Rahul has not yet ensured uniform compensation for land acquired,nor done anything to get our arrested leaders released.
Teotia,contesting as a JD(U) candidate,had taken the lead in the agitations at Tappal and Bhatta-Parsual before Rahul took those up.
After Handa-Nagla,his wife attended a panchayat in Bhatta,held by village elders to assess the work done by a team of volunteers working for Teotia. Speaker after speaker contrasted their limited resources and hard work with the connections of the Congress candidate,who had arranged Rahuls ride into Bhatta-Parsaul last year.
Nutan Teotia remained seated along with the veiled women until everyone else had spoken. Then she sought the support of everyone against an alleged effort at demonisation of farmers making just demands; they were branded anarchic and Naxals by the BSP regime,she said.
Incidentally,in his speech in Jewar,Rahul too ridiculed the UP polices claim of the Bhatta-Parsaul agitators being Naxals. He stressed his support for the agitations,staking a sole claim to being the champion of their grievances.
But the signal from this village was that the candidate he backs cannot expect a clean sweep just because he had courted arrest in May 2011.