Bundelkhand is the region for which the demand for statehood has been the strongest in recent years. And,of all politicians in UP,Chief Minister Mayawati has been the most vocal about it. Yet,her exertions a letter to the Prime Minister for division of UP into four states,backed up with a resolution in the legislature have impressed few on the ground.
The issue in Bundelkhand now is governance,not statehood. Her rule has been a story of missed opportunities and pervasive corruption by her chosen men, says Gopal Goyal,teacher in a local college.
Mayawatis political rivals are using much stronger language.
Under her,there was open loot of money,whether of the states own or of that given by the Centre for the poor under schemes like the Bundelkhand package, says Vivek Kumar Singh,Congress spokesman and local MLA who is contesting again.
The names of two men invariably come up in such discussions PWD Minister Naseemuddin Siddiqui and former family welfare minister Babu Singh Kushwaha,who had to resign last year after the death of two CMOs and who was later expelled from the BSP.
They were Mayawatis two most trusted men; now Siddiqui remains the only one. Both were MLCs and,therefore,not answerable to the people. And both virtually ruled Bundelkhand.
Kushwahas role in the multi-crore NRHM scam,and his naming as an accused by the CBI,have made national headlines. So has the allotment of tractors,which were meant for farmers,to Siddiquis relatives and others who had nothing to do with farming.
Not as well known is the Lokayuktas ongoing investigation into allegations of corruption,amassing of wealth,and misuse of office against Siddiqui. Or,for that matter,the Lokayuktas recommendation for a CBI investigation into alleged money-laundering and favouritism in the award of mining contracts by Kushwaha.
Bundelkhand itself is rife with stories of the mining mafia,a bridge whose slabs fell into the Yamuna days after it had been thrown open,the collapse of a portion under construction at the local medical college,roads built and rebuilt,and strong-arm methods used to grab land.
All of these are woven around Siddiqui and Kushwaha who has now become the BJPs great white hope of OBC vote consolidation.
Add to these the arrest of Purshotttam Naresh Dwivedi,BSP MLA from Naraini,for allegedly raping a girl whom he had sheltered as a domestic help. The police instead charged her with theft; the Allahadad High Court,taking cognisance of media reports,later ordered her release.
Corruption and crime crossed all limits under this government, says Hasanuddin Siddiqui,Naseemuddins brother,a former railway employee who has joined the Samajwadi Party. Hasanuddin says he tried to raise these matters with his brother,but parted ways when he realised it was leading nowhere.
BSP district leader Baldev Prasad Verma would have you believe that most stories of corruption and crime by BSP men were exaggerations by opposition parties and a biased media. But disenchantment with the BSP is palpable.
Banda is Siddiquis hometown; Attarrah,38km away,is Kushwahas. It takes about 75 minutes to traverse this distance because more than half the road is a bone-rattling drive. In fact,several roads in Bundelkhand are equally bad or worse. Lakhs of people grumble about Siddiqui every time they use these roads.
Attarrah is a dusty,filthy town. There is little to suggest that it is the home of the man who once served as Mayawatis point man for BSP MLAs and who,it was assumed,spoke for the Chief Minister. The towns most impressive building is a white multi-storey structure of Tathagat Vidyastahli,a school Kushwaha has made. Work is still on.
He did nothing for the town. All for himself,his family and relatives,and his clan, says Raja Bhaiya who runs an NGO,Vidya Dhan Samiti,which works for creating awareness about peoples rights.
In Gurah Kalan village,about 12 km from Naraini,stands a hospital building. The gate is rusted,the door locked and the widowpanes broken a testimony to how NRHM was implemented.
Raja Bhaiya says it was built about two years ago and has since remained locked; there was something wrong with the construction and,therefore,the Health Department refused to accept it. It is supposed to serve 20-odd villages.
Droughts,farm distress,rural indebtedness and migration have for long been Bundelkhands pains.
Pushpendra Singh,a social activist,says nothing much has changed on the ground in spite of the Bundelkhand package. First,the schemes in the package were just a rehashed version of existing Central schemes. Then there was corruption in the implementation by the local administration. Finally,there was no effective monitoring and course correction, says Singh.
During his trips in villages around Naraini,Raja Bhaiya heard a new slogan: Jo haraeyga hathi,wahi hamara sathi. The hathi is the BSP symbol.
The opposition parties have all sensed an opportunity. The Congresss Rahul Gandhi,the Samajwadi Partys Mulayam Singh Yadav and Akhilesh Yadav have toured the region. The BJPs Uma Bharti,contesting from Charkhari,too has campaigned extensively.
The BJP wasnt very visible in the initial stages of the campaign. Lately,however,Uma Bharti seems to have infused a new life into the party. She looks capable for swinging the votes of her Lodhi community,which has a substantial presence in many seats.
Kushwahas campaign he is projecting himself as a messiah of the backward,supposedly threatened by the UPAs sub-quota for backward Muslims within the OBC quota is also helping the BJP to some extent. It is generally accepted that Kushwaha looked after his community.
The upshot is that the BJP has acquired a critical mass,acknowledges an SP leader,in many constituencies it is being seen as a viable option by voters.