Bhatta-Parsaul was Rahul’s for the taking, but what went wrong?
Bhatta-Parsaul – the twin villages in Western Uttar Pradesh that were at the centre of last year’s farmer agitation—was pegged as the battleground between the young prince and the reigning queen.
The contest should have been a dream win for the young Gandhi who had charmed the farmers by joining cause with them by famously sneaking into Bhatta on a bike in the early hours of the morning, giving the police cordon the slip.
In a shock defeat for the Congress, its candidate from Jewar—where the two villages are located—Dhirendra Singh fell short of the BSP’s Vedram Bhati by 9,500 votes. Vedram got 67,524, Singh 58,024 followed by Samajwadi Party’s Bijendra Singh Bhati at 35,166.
Why was Rahul not able to translate massive crowds he pulled into votes? After such a sensational launch into UP’s political landscape—Mayawati almost handed him the opportunity on a platter—why did the campaign lose its hold over the people?
A day after votes were counted, the residents of the twin villages remain stunned by the return of the BSP. Says Om Veer Singh, Bhatta’s village head, with a wry smile, "Vedram is also probably wondering where he got all these votes. He never once showed his face here during the campaign. If you had asked him before the results were declared, how many votes he would have got, he would have said not more than 50,000."
The fight for Jewar, say residents of Bhatta, had always been between the Congress' Dhirendra (a thakur) and the Samajwadi Party's (SP) Bijendra Bhati (a Gujjar).
"In a matter of three-four days, the game changed. When the Gujjars, who until last week were with the SP candidate, realised that Dhirendra was looking more and more like the winning candidate, they decided to go with the BSP candidate (who is also a Gujjar)," says Devender Mallik, a resident of Bhatta.
The logic behind going with the Vedram Bhati, explains Om Veer Singh, is that given BSP’s assured Jatav (Mayawati’s most loyal voters) vote, Vedram was a safer bet for the Gujjars to get the winning numbers.
"And so 80 percent of the Gujjar vote, fled from SP’s Bijendra to go with BSP’s Vedram. Gujjars always vote for their candidates."
The cold calculation of caste, which continues to be the crucial factor for voters in Uttar Pradesh, seems to have cost the Congress dearly.
However, Neetu, a farmer who has made a small fortune by selling part of his land, explains why the support for Mayawati in Jewar goes beyond just caste.
“Vedram has won on the strength of Mayawati. It is thanks to her that farmers are living a new lifestyle now. Bullock carts have been replaced by SUVs. Now houses in villages are being fitted with ACs (air conditioners). Farmers live in big houses, have big cars.”
Many believe, the farmer agitation represented only a minority of the farmers, while the majority had no quarrel with Mayawati.
And that minority came from Bhatta-Parsaul and adjoining villages. But even there, Rahul lost votes. Prominent among the 16 other candidates who contested from Jewar, was Manveer Singh Tevatia, the man who led the three-month long farmer agitation against Mayawati government’s land acquisition policy
Tellingly, Bhatta gave Manveer Singh who had spearheaded the agitation got 564, the Congress candidate 454 votes.
There is a strong sense of disappointment among farmers here for Rahul Gandhi, who they perceive as someone who didn’t follow up on his promises.
“He gave the patient the injection, but he didn’t stay long enough to find out if the patient survived. It was political game for the Congress,” says Rahul Kaushik, who was among those injured during police firing.
“The farmer agitation was going for more than three months. Why didn’t the Congress support us then? They only came after the police had fired on us,” he adds.
Another reason for the disenchantment with Rahul Gandhi, one Pandey says, “The cases that were filed against farmers during the agitation have not been dropped. If the Railway police, which is under the Centre, had dropped the cases against the farmers for the Rail roko, perhaps the BSP too would have dropped cases against the farmers. But there has been no respite for the farmers from Centre nor the state. Nine farmers are still languishing in jail and many more have received notices from the court.”
However, Pawan Kumar, a shopkeeper whose shop was looted and damaged during the police firing, says he supports the Congress.
“Congress saved our lives. Farmers had fled the villages and were hiding in fields after the police fired on us. No other leader came to help us in that grave hour. But Rahul came. He made sure that farmers could return to their homes,” he says.
A die-hard Congress supporter, Chandraban Mallik, a former village headman from Parsaul says, "The 58,000 votes that the Congress has got from Jewar is a record in itself. Never before from this region has Congress performed this well. And this was the impact of Rahul Gandhi. But unfortunately, we weren’t able to reach our message to more people in time.”
The mood in Congress candidate Dhirendra Singh’s sprawling residence-cum-office in Rabupur, located about 6 km from Parsaul, is one of shocked disbelief. He was expected to win by a margin of 20,000 votes.
A dejected Dhirendra, forces a smile when he says, “Just the way crowds gather in a house where someone has just died, people are coming to see me.”
His eyes remain glued to the election result sheets of Jewar. Describing it as “unexpected”, he says, “The BSP is a cadre-based party, they have men at the booth level. The Congress as Rahul Gandhi said has organisational weaknesses.”
Asked about why Rahul’s appeal didn’t make a bigger impact, Singh says, “In UP, caste is big factor. The election in the end goes in favour of money power and caste equations...given the circumstances, getting more 58,000 votes is an achievement in itself.”