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UP: In Dalit-Muslim wedding,SP finds a formula to counter BSP

The SP has fielded R P Chaudhary,who is a Dalit woman and married to an Ansari Muslim

Social engineering may be the BSP’s forte,but the Samajwadi Party has attempted its own form of this art to challenge Consumer Affairs Minister Ramhet Bharti in Hargaon (reserved) constituency.

The SP has fielded R P Chaudhary,who is a Dalit woman and married to an Ansari Muslim. The choice was driven by the fact that Dalits and Muslims together constitute more than 40 per cent of the electorate,and that they have been Bharti’s main support base.

For Chaudhary,a law graduate,it is her first election.

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Why did she decide to contest? “I belong to a political family,I want to serve the people.” And how is it fighting against Bharti,an old BSP hand and a two-time MLA? “People welcome me wherever I go.”

Jalaluddin Ansari,secretary of the Samajwadi Party in Lakhimpur Kheri district,appears to have tutored his wife well. Her replies are predictable,uttered with the diffidence and earnestness of a new student.

But the political greenhorn is still giving Bharti a run for his money. Supplementing her unique appeal to two large communities are various other factors.

Bharti faces the charge of neglecting local issues. Hargaon town does not have a bus station. The only degree college is private,run by one of Bharti’s supporters,and the fees are more than most people can afford. The nearest government degree colleges are in Sitapur and Lakhimpuri,both more than 20km away.

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In the middle of the town is a sugar mill. In the crushing season,the main road often remains blocked for days by tractor trolleys bringing sugarcane. Parts of the town at times suffer from a stench from the mill and the distillery nearby.

People in Murad Nagar complain that the mill has polluted their groundwater. In Gurdev Nagar and other localities around the mill,anything kept in the open gets covered with a white,powdery substance. People say it also causes irritation in the eyes and breathing problems.

Bharti says these are minor problems: “When development takes place,some discomfort comes with it.” As for the traffic jams,he has got a bypass sanctioned; work would start after the elections.

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Those who suffer the “discomfort” blame a nexus of officials,the mill management and politicians. And Bharti is the biggest politician. The locals don’t benefit from the factory because “most employees are from outside”,says a young man at Murad Nagar

Bharti has also annoyed many with his alleged strong-arm methods to ensure the victory of his people in block development committee and the district panchayat elections,held in late 2010. BDC chairperson Kalpana Singh Rathore,wife of a government official,was elected uncontested thanks to Bharti’s backing,while Bharti’s wife Usha is district panchayat president.

Among those who reportedly suffered was Chandra Kumar Gautam,an old BSP worker,now contesting the election as a candidate of Amar Singh’s Rashtriya Lok Manch. Gautam said his wife,Mayawati,who ran a PDS shop,was arrested for alleged irregularities just because he opposed Bharti’s hegemony and quit the BSP.

Bharti counters that Gautam had a criminal past,and his wife went to jail for black marketing PDS supplies. Locals point out that Gautam and his wife’s troubles started only after he fell out with Bharti. They give other examples,too.

The minister’s third problem is the result of delimitation that took away several villages with a substantial population of the Jatav community,considered a BSP votebank. In their place the constituency got villages where the population complexion,it is said,is unfavourbale to the BSP.

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Bharti says it does not make much difference,except that the constituency has now become very big; he has been travelling and meeting people in the new areas ever since the delimitation was done.

However vulnerable Bharti looks to his rivals,there are some who think they are underestimating him. The fact is that the opposition to him is fragmented,says Jitendra Kumar Raj,a local leader of BS-4,which was floated by people who had broken away from the BSP a few years ago.

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Besides Chaudhary and Gautam,there are Congress candidate Manjari Rahi,BJP candidate Kiran Bala Chaudhary and some others in the fray to divide the anti-government votes,Raj points out.

On the other hand,the BSP has the best organisation and remains the most popular among Dalits. Also,Bharti has taken good care of local problems in Muslim areas. In rural areas,the BSP enjoys goodwill in Ambedkar villages where the Mayawati government has provided basic amenities.

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Bharti’s opponents say this is simplistic. In 2007,Bharti had won by 6,578 votes when there was a pro-BSP sentiment. This time,the odds against him are stacked high.

First published on: 07-02-2012 at 03:59:03 am
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