Tuesday, December 02, 2003

Caste crucible's neighbour becomes lab


Chhattarpur, Dec. 1: If Mandal and Dalit power have become political realities in Uttar Pradesh, can neighbouring Madhya Pradesh be far behind? Yes and no.

Caste has "influenced and determined most elections in India", said observers about the caste-factor in the Assembly polls. However, in the districts adjoining Uttar Pradesh, this explanation was amended to mean that the Samajwadi Party-Bahujan Samaj Party effect had percolated the borders and the backward castes and Dalits were asserting their identities more forcefully.

Evidence of this was visible in the crowds that milled to Chhattarpur on November 25 when BSP leader Mayavati addressed a rally. Young and old, men, women and children poured in in trucks, jeeps and tractors or trekked from distant villages, shouting "Jiski jitni sankhya bhaari, uski utni bhagyidari (The greater the numbers, the higher the representation)".

"These people only understand the language of the oppressor. But our great Digvijay Singh carries them on his head like a crown," muttered Kuldeep Singh, a Congress worker from Chauka village 20 km from Chhattarpur. The Congress member was visibly upset over the chief minister's move to distribute title deeds (pattas) to Dalits and regularise their land holdings.

"I may support the Congress publicly, but in my heart of hearts I feel cheated by Digvijay," said the Congressman from Chauka. He felt that the chief minister let him down, following the arrest - under the SC/ST Act - of landowners who opposed the distribution of the deeds. "A law-abiding man like Thakur Jagat Singh from our village, who shuddered to even think about a jail, was put behind bars," he said.

Munni Lal Prajapati, the Dalit sarpanch, was a beneficiary of the patta scheme. However, Prajapati said he would vote for the BSP and not the Congress. "When we have the real thing, we go for a second-hand one?" asked the sarpanch.

"The biggest problem is social inequality. Dalits continue to remain slaves as they were under the British. Thakurs, who claim to be descendants of this or that royal family, rule the roost and nobody can stand against the terror they unleash," said J.P. Nigam, the BSP candidate from Chhattarpur.

"Tika Ram Yadav, the president of the Yadav Samaj here, was murdered because he said he would contest the last election. Then, when a Lodhi Rajput defeated a Thakur in the last panchayat elections, he was killed," alleged Nigam.

"Even today, men and women from the most backward castes and Dalits are forced to entertain Thakur landlords. They have no land, no fishing rights, no right to use the forests even for their daily quota of firewood," asserted the BSP candidate.

Nigam sourced the power disparity to the non-implementation of land reforms and compared the situation with Uttar Pradesh.

"In Uttar Pradesh, Chaudhury Charan Singh scrupulously enforced the Land Ceiling Act. This, coupled with the spin-offs of the Green Revolution, made the Jats and backward castes economically self-sufficient and strong. Economic empowerment gave them social pride and the next logical step was political participation," he said.

"In Madhya Pradesh, Dalits and backward castes cannot become powerful simply by contesting elections," claimed the candidate.

This is why Nigam and others were sceptical of how much BJP leader Uma Bharti would deliver in the socio-economic sector if she were to become chief minister despite being from the Other Backward Classes. "The OBC effect is nil. Her appeal is purely regional," Nigam felt.

Gauri Shankar Pathak, the Khajuraho-based BJP Kisan Morcha vice-president and a close associate of Bharti, warned that if her backward caste antecedent was overplayed, the BJP could stand to lose. "If Uma becomes casteist, she will never become the chief minister because the BJP takes every caste along with it," he said.

Source: The Telegraph, December 2, 2003


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