The division between backward and forward castes which seems to be driving the Assembly polls in Bihar has started becoming apparent even in the village adopted by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in his parliamentary constituency as the run up to the Gram Panchayat elections begin in Uttar Pradesh.

But while in Bihar the division has been caused primarily by Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh chief Mohan Bhagwat’s call for review of reservation policy and aggressive posturing by Modi’s upper caste base, in Jayapur – the village in Varanasi district brought under “Saansad Adarsh Gram Yojna” last year – it has been fuelled by the RSS’ bid to replicate Gujarat’s “Samras” village concept.

Violation of democratic rights

The concept of “Samras” – under which a village chooses its Sarpanch through consensus rather than elections – was introduced in the Gram Panchayat elections of Gujarat just after Modi became the Chief Minister in 2001. He also extended financial incentives to promote this concept, which many consider as an attempt to discourage the process of election – and thus hit at the basic foundation of the democratic system – at the grassroots level.

“Samagra Gram Vikas Samiti is putting pressure on us to choose the village Sarpanch through consensus, but that will be a violation of democratic rights of villagers,” said Narayan Patel, the brother-in-law of village’s outgoing Sarpanch Durgavati Devi.

During previous Panchayat elections, Jayapur was among villages reserved for women candidates. This time round, however, it has become a general seat. Patel, who has been deliberating on behalf of Durgavati Devi for last five years, is planning to contest election this time. He is a Kurmi, one of the Other Backward Castes which dominates the village in terms of number of votes.

Samagra Gram Vikas Samiti is a village level voluntary organisation controlled by the RSS. This Samiti is said to have played a critical role in getting this village adopted by Modi and has, during last one year, emerged as the parallel power centre. Since it enjoys apparent support from the Prime Minister’s Office, it has greatly succeeded in undermining the duly elected Panchayat of Jayapur.

Caste divide

As the two sides have hardened their positions, the villagers have got thoroughly divided. Durgavati Devi, who won largely with the backing of OBC voters, soon ran into conflict with the Samiti, which comprises almost entirely of the upper caste Bhumihars of the village. The allegations and counter allegations have become very frequent and the two bodies have been working in complete isolation, according to Patel.

“For last few months the Samiti has been trying to develop a consensus among villagers to make Jayapur an election-free village on the line of Gujarat’s Samras concept,” said Samiti’s coordinator and RSS point man in the village Arvind Kumar. “But Narayan Patel does not want to let the post go out of his control. Last time an OBC woman was elected Sarpanch, and this time the post should go to someone from upper caste,” he added.

Although there is no formal instruction from Modi to replicate his Gujarat model in Jayapur, a senior official in the PMO confirmed that developments in the village are being monitored closely and attempts would be made shortly to persuade villagers to go election free.

Meanwhile, the deadlock has caused a sharp divide between the forward and the backward castes, with the latter appearing adamant to keep the post of village Sarpanch in their own hands. Of the total population in Jayapur, nearly 60% belong to the OBCs, majority of them being Kurmis, and nearly 35% belong to upper castes, majority of them Bhumihars. The Scheduled Castes account for the remaining 5% of the village population.

The Gram Panchayat elections in UP will be held in four phases – November 17, November 23, November 27 and December 2. Polling in Jayapur would be held in the last phase on December 2. The counting of votes is due to be done on December 11.