Agra: Allegations of
corruption against Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Mayawati find no
takers in large parts of this Dalit land where people from
socially marginalised communities braved the cold to vote in large
A day after the first phase of assembly elections concluded in 55
constituencies, Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) loyalists see nothing
wrong in Mayawati's penchant for tales of opulence or statue
Of the Taj city's almost two million people, a quarter is engaged
in the traditional leather shoes industry that has seen a
significant turnaround in the past decade.
The Dalits of Agra region have become an economic entity and form
the backbone of not only the shoe but iron foundries and glass
industries as well.
"They are now vocal and empowered. They believe it has all
happened because of BSP's rise since 1989," says Abhinay Prasad, a
consultant for the shoe industry.
The Dalits here reverentially address four-time chief minister
Mayawati as 'Behenji', or sister.
In the predominantly Dalit areas of Jagdishpura, Bodla, Bheem
Nagar or on the periphery of Agra, the refrain is the same.
"Mayawati is the new messiah who has done so much to lend dignity
to our social reformers and leaders by installing their statues.
What is wrong with that? Didn't other parties do that earlier?"
asked a young activist, Netra Pal Singh.
"The BSP is not just a political outfit, it represents the
continuation of the Dalit struggle and is a manifestation of our
deep-seated frustrations," he added.
After BSP founder leader Kanshi Ram, Mayawati has consolidated
these sentiments. Dalits here vote en bloc for her, says activist
Surendra Singh Chandel.
Corruption charges against her are seen to be motivated by caste
"Behenji, single-handed, like Rani of Jhansi, is arraigned against
the combined onslaught of anti-Dalit forces. She will defeat all
of them," says a confident BSP member, Rukmani Devi.
The dense Dalit Jatav population in Agra, Mathura, Aligarh,
Hathras and Firozabad has always been a crucial factor in any
"The reason is that this segment has loyally voted for one
particular group or party and leveraged its identity to
advantage," said Forward Bloc leader Ram Kishore, a political
"The annual Bheem Nagri and Baba Sahab's birthday celebrations are
at par with Ram Lila," he added.
BSP leaders here are clearly happy that a whopping 62 percent
Said BSP's Arbind Pushkar: "BSP voters came out in large numbers
despite the cold and rains to make sure Behenji returns with a
clear majority (in the 403-member house)."
If the cold wave continues, it could become difficult to mobilise
voters, "especially the so-called elite crowd", warned Vinay
Paliwal, a former socialist.
Political pundits, however, feel that a high voter turnout
indicates the fierce contest in Uttar Pradesh.
"The party with the most loyal following and committed voters
always stands to benefit," political commentator Paras Nath
Choudhary told IANS on phone from Ghaziabad.
Congress candidates Sumit Bibhav and Nazeer Ahmed see the high
turnout as a hopeful sign for the Congress.
Social activist Anna Hazare's followers are also taking the credit
for the large voting.
"The Anna impact is visible everywhere. Parties have been a little
more careful in fielding new and clean faces although caste
continues to remain the ultimate qualification," said human rights
activist Naresh Paras.
"Candidates with a criminal past have been identified and will
most certainly feel the heat of the campaign," he said.
The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is also hopeful. "Wait for the
results," gushed young BJP leader Deepak Khare, a corporator in
Supporters of the Samajwadi Party, which is determined to oust the
BSP, are a worried lot. But they too have their fingers crossed.
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