In Bundelkhand, where everyone talks about unemployment and lack of industries, one kind of economic activity that does thrive is constant stone and sand mining. All over the region, one can see stone quarries and moving trucks full of sand. This is not the kind of industry that residents of Bundelkhand are calling for, as much of this work is carried out illegally. It is also causing a curious consolidation of votes in Bundelkhand. Much of the mining work, legal or illegal, is carried out by those connected to powerful politicians in the region. So, in an area where the BSP is strong, people are often heard talking about all thekedari (contracts) going to those with BSP connections, while in an SP stronghold they talk of the muscle power of those connected to the SP. And those who do not get to participate in this activity say they want to defeat the party they see as being in charge.
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“Mining is the only big activity here and most of it is run by politicians, depending on which party is in power in Lucknow and which muscleman is holding a region. The work too goes to people of their caste or those associated with them. Even police are unable to take any action,” conceded a policeman in Mahoba.
Jageshwar Chaurasia, a contractor, used to be a BSP supporter, and the party won Mahoba consecutively in 2007 and 2012. This time, he says, he will vote for the SP. “The SP candidate is good. But all thekas are cornered by BSP people. I am voting to defeat it,” he says.
In Charkhari, however, an Ahirvar voter from Panwari village says he always voted for the SP but would go with the BJP this time as SP musclemen not only bully local people but corner all mining contracts and related employment and we get nothing.
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Union minister Uma Bharti has frequently raised this issue in her election rallies and asked why Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav is not talking about illegal mining in his speeches. But BJP workers concede that the party itself has one candidate associated with illegal mining. They agree it can work to the disadvantage of the party.
Another consolidation in many constituencies in this region has arisen out of the SP and the BSP’s thrust on Muslim votes. Fence-sitters who might have voted for the Congress or the SP have begun to think of the BJP. This would in effect be a reverse consolidation on communal grounds, even if on a minor scale.
Says Sanjay Saxena, a tea stall owner in civil lines area of Jhansi, “If everyone is going to say Muslim, Muslim, then we are bound to coalesce as Hindu, Hindu.”
Saxena, incidentally, is a Baniya who has suffered for demonetisation and is not very happy about it.
In Banda Sadar, the Vaishya community accounts for the largest chunk of votes. They admit they have suffered during demonetisation but say they will still vote for the BJP. Says Ranjan Gupta, a shoe shop owner, “Demonetisation has caused a lot of damage. We might take another six months to recover. But a significant chunk of our votes will go to BJP. What option do we have? Other parties are wooing only Muslims.”
A BJP worker says, “The talk about Baniyas being angry with the BJP is only half the story. What have other parties given them? Yes, the jewellers have suffered, but they are not voting for us. Many among the rest, too, still see the BJP as a good choice.”