Obra and Duddhi, the last two constituencies of Uttar Pradesh – the Election Commission gave them the constituency numbers 402 and 403 – will go to polls on March 8. They are, however, the only two seats reserved for the Scheduled Tribe community (ST). The people from the region have their own set of problems — unemployment, education, forest land rights issues, fluoride in drinking water, lack of health infrastructure as well as alleged illegal mining.
The seats are significant in the sense that this is the first time that seats are being reserved for the ST community since the formation of Uttarakhand in 2000. Many activists have since approached courts requesting that the region, which has a large tribal population, be reserved for the constituency.
Duddhi constituency, which has about 50 per cent SC/ST population, shares the state border with Jharkhand and Chhatisgarh on two sides. The controversial Kanhar Dam project is also part of this constituency. Protests against the project, construction for which had started, had turned violent in 2015. Once the project becomes operational, over 10 villages would be submerged.
Contesting from here is seven-time former MLA BSP’s Vijay Gond, 61. He represented the seat from 1980 to 2002. Gond, which is a dominant caste in Duddhi, were declared a Scheduled Tribe in 2002. Thereafter, he couldn’t contest from the seat, which was reserved for Scheduled Caste community.
Although a popular leader, Vijay Gond is known for shifting parties without any hesitation.
He has been an MLA in the past two times from Congress, one time as an Independent, two times from Janta Dal, two times from Samajwadi Party.
In 2012, Vijay, who was then in the Congress, supported Independent candidate Rubi Prasad who won from the seat. Later, Vijay was even made district president of Congress in Sonbhadra, but decided to join BJP instead after 2014 Lok Sabha elections.
In 2016, Vijay left the BJP. According to sources, he since approached several parties and later joined the BSP. His son Virendra Singh is now a BSP candidate from Obra.
“Rajniti mein koi manah nahi hai ki koi party nahi badal sakta. Jiski satta hai, usko join kiya adivasiyon ke interest ke liye (There is no rule in politics that says you can’t change party. I joined the party that would serve the interest of the tribals),” said Vijay, who claims to be an MBBS drop-out. He also added that issues related to tribals could be largely addressed by the central government and thus “rising above party lines”, he had joined the BJP, which had promised to address them.
The BJP is not contesting from Duddhi, instead leaving to its alliance partner Apna Dal’s candidate Hariram from Chero tribe, which has about 10,000 votes in the region. The Congress fielded Anil Singh, who is also Gond by caste.
Apart from Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi, Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh had addressed a meeting in Duddhi.
In Obra constituency, which was a general seat till the last Assembly election, BJP has chosen a grassroot level worker, 41-year-old Sanjiv Kumar, against SP’s Ravi Gond and the BSP’s Virendra Pratap Singh. While the campaign promises are common: protect rights of tribes, Sanjiv hopes to use his BJP affiliation to his advantage. He promises to leverage the central government, where the BJP is the single-largest party, to protect tribal rights.
But history may have a role to play as well. In 2012, this seat was won by Sunil Singh of the BSP, who had defeated Devendra Pratap Singh of BJP by about 9,000 votes.
While PM Narendra Modi had called all candidates from Sonebhadra in a public meeting in Mirzapur district instead, BSP Chief Mayawati had addressed her meeting only in Robertsganj area of Sonbhadra for all the assembly constituencies of Sonbhadra. CM Akhilesh Yadav had also addressed public meeting in Robertsganj on March 5.