Having raised five children, Savitri Yadav, a widow in her fifties, was at that stage of life when she could afford to sit back and bask in the winter sun, while her two college-going daughters and her daughter-in-law flitted around to manage the home and the kitchen.
“Ameer gareeb banbe kariye.” The rich have become poor, Yadav chuckled as she declared her support for notebandi.
The family’s single-storeyed brick home is set amidst the fields, away from the main settlement in Baksha village, with just one other family as neighbours. Perhaps that explains Yadav’s independent streak. In the rest of the village, which lies 15 kms from Jaunpur in eastern Uttar Pradesh, even Brahmins who traditionally support the Bharatiya Janata Party complained bitterly of the hardship caused by demonetisation, as did many Yadavs.
Abhay Kumar Yadav, a farmer, said it took him ten days to withdraw Rs 6,000 from the bank and he still owed the seed and fertiliser merchant Rs 4,300. “Have you seen any brick kiln owner in the bank queue?” he asked. “It’s only the poor who are lining up.”
But Savitri Yadav could not stop gushing about Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s farsightedness. “The rich have always oppressed the poor,” she said. “Look at these politicians, they take the votes of the poor. But after they win, they act like rajas. They shoo away the poor and welcome the rich, offering them chairs, giving them tea.” By demonetising bulk of the currency in circulation from November 9, Modi had taken the wind out of such black money hoarders, she said. “Raja rahin to baajaa baj gayin unka.”
But was she sure the rich had been laid low by demonetisation?
“Ab dikhaawati baajaa yaa asli mein baajaa, dikhaawati to baajaa bajat waa…” Whether it is real or fake, at least they appear to have suffered a setback. That’s enough to feel satisfied, she said.
So strong was her conviction in Modi, she dismissed all talk of hardship on account of the cash crunch. “I haven’t seen but I have heard from my son that you can swipe cards to make purchases and transfer money using mobiles.”
Savitri Yadav’s source of information was her middle son, Kuldip Kumar Yadav.
Tall and lean, with a tilak on his forehead, he spoke even more glowingly of Modi than his mother. “We have got a PM who does not think of his votebank but thinks only of his country.”
Some of the admiration was ideological – the 26-year-old identified with Modi’s espousal of Hindutva and his ideas of modernity – but some of it was personal. Kuldip saw in Modi a self-made man who had struggled like him.
As a teenager, Kuldip had dropped out of school and taken a train to Mumbai, where, through family networks, he found employment in a thread-making factory in Kalyan. The experience of factory work had scarred him. “It was like slavery under British rule,” he said. “People worked 12 hours, 24 hours. There was no difference between humans and animals.”
He left the metropolis in two months, catching a train to Amritsar in Punjab on a whim – he did not have a single acquaintance there. He sought refuge in a gurudwara, did small jobs, till he got lucky and bagged a contract to run a small private parking lot. As his business grew, it wasn’t just enough to give bribes to municipal officials, he began to feel the need for a foot in local politics. The Bharatiya Janata Party and Congress were his first port-of-call. “Neither helped, both tried to use me,” he said. Eventually, it was the Shiv Sena that came to his rescue. The party does not have an electoral presence outside Maharashtra, but fans of its late founder Bal Thackeray can be found in places as small as Kathua in Jammu.
As a Shiv Sainik in Amritsar, Yadav would issue statements about Hindu causes. In the summer of 2016, he objected to the installation of the statue of Maharaja Ranjit Singh in the Mallika-da-butt roundabout that held Queen Elizabeth’s statue. “Before Queen Elizabeth’s statue was installed here, this used to be Gayatri Chowk,” he said. He saw the Ranjit Singh statue as part of an aggressive Sikh assertion under the Akali Dal. “It is technically an alliance government between Akali Dal and BJP, but the Akalis are all powerful, no one dare speak against them.” In Ludhiana, on the eve of a Hindu mahapanchayat in April, a leader of the Shiv Sena was killed in broad daylight.
Just before Diwali, Yadav returned home. Keeping the reasons vague, he said, “When you work hard in life, you don’t want to lose everything to a moment of indiscretion.”
Back in the village, Yadav joined an organisation led by a local swami, which has, after demonetisation, turned its attention from saving cows to popularising digital payments. “We are trying to teach school children to go cashless,” Yadav said. “We are trying to persuade shopkeepers to get swipe machines.” At the moment, Baksha baazaar has none.
Kuldip Yadav’s unabashed embrace of Hindutva and support of Modi has created a rift with his old childhood friends, who say: “Yadav hoke Modi ka photo lagaate ho.” Despite being a Yadav, you promote Modi. His response: “Bhagwan Ram ko maanane waale sab hai.” Everyone believes in Ram.
But it isn’t just Hindutva – Kuldip Yadav rationalises the difference between him and his school friends as the difference between the urban sophisticate and the rural illiterate who know no better. He also identifies Yadavs as “uchch jaati”, or upper caste, even though officially Yadavs come under the Other Backward Classes.
Contrary to long-held assumptions equating caste identities with political parties, Uttar Pradesh is now seeing a greater “internal differentiation” within castes, academics Prashant K Trivedi, Surinder Kumar, Srinivas Goli, Fahimuddin write in a recent article in the Economic and Political Weekly. These social and economic differences, they say, are “making it challenging to articulate a politics that reflects the aspirations of the entire community”.
That partly explains why several young, aspirational Yadavs voted for the BJP in the Lok Sabha elections in 2014. The BJP is hopeful of retaining some of those votes this time. But is that happening?
There are indeed young Yadav men in Baksha who express admiration for Modi. Sarvesh Kumar Yadav, who teaches in a private school, credits the prime minister for the smart cities project and the surgical strike on Pakistan.
But this time, things are complicated – there is a Yadav leader who embodies many of Modi’s perceived virtues. Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav is popular not just among the Yadavs. Whether in the Brahmin quarter of Baksha or the Harijan Basti, among BJP workers or BSP supporters, everyone seems to have only words of praise for him.
“Saaf suthra hai.” He is clean.
“Imaandaar hai.” He is honest.
“Padha likha hai”. He is educated.
“Kaam kiya hai.” He has worked hard.
Among the many initiatives of Akhilesh Yadav identified by people as evidence of his work: the Samajwadi Pension Yojana, monthly financial assistance of Rs 500 for people below the poverty line; Kanya Shiksha Dhan, scholarships for meritorious girls; cycles and laptops for high-school students; an ambulance service for emergencies and pregnant women, popularly known as 108 and 102; a responsive police helpline, popularly known as 100; and the immensely sought-after Lohiya Gareeb Awaas Yojana, which gives people more than Rs 3 lakh to construct homes.
None of the initiatives are predicated on caste, which had helped buttress Akhilesh Yadav’s image as more than just a Yadav leader.
But the Samajwadi Party worker in the village, Baba Yadav, is pragmatic. “People might praise Akhilesh, but there is always some anti-incumbency,” he said.
As it happens, in the Malhani assembly constituency in which Baksha falls, the Bahujan Samaj Party has fielded a candidate from the Yadav community, Vivek Yadav. Young and affluent, with a political lineage, he has been doing the rounds of the villages in the run up to polls. “Whoever calls him, he comes,” said Abhay Kumar Yadav, approvingly. “Naya hai, yuva hai.” He is young and new. Not something that can be said of the current Samajwadi MLA, Parasnath Yadav, a veteran minister who is in his late-sixties.
But most of all, what is keeping the Samajwadi workers anxious is the family feud that has engulfed the party, pitting Akhilesh Yadav against his father Mulayam Singh. In the event of a split in the party, all Samajwadi workers in Baksha are clear where their loyalties lie. “With Akhilesh. He is the future,” said Bharat Yadav, the crusty old man who is the de facto village pradhan, ruling in the name of his widowed sister-in-law Shanti Yadav who has been twice elected in the panchayat polls.
But Baba Yadav is worried about the symbol. “If the Election Commission freezes the symbol, then the party will be in trouble,” he said.
However, Bharat Yadav is confident of Akhilesh Yadav sailing through. “Cycle chali jayegi to kya, motorcycle aa jayegi.” So what if the cycle goes, the motorcycle will come, he guffawed.
Even Kuldip Kumar Yadav, the self-avowed Modi bhakt, could not conceal a blush for Akhilesh Yadav. When asked who should be Uttar Pradesh’s next chief minister, he said without blinking: “Modi PM ban ke kaarnaame dikhaate rahein, CM bane Akhilesh.” Let Modi work his wonders as prime minister, may Akhilesh become the CM.
Then, his inner politician came to the fore, and he corrected himself: “Hum apni sooch se nahi chal sakte na, janta ki bhi dekhni hai humein.” I cannot just go by my own thinking. I have to respect people’s wishes.
Narendra Modi and Akhilesh Yadav are not the only leaders that the people of Baksha talk about. In the next story, those who want the return of Mayawati.
Over the next eight weeks leading up to the Uttar Pradesh elections, Scroll.in’s ‘A Village Votes’ series will bring readers glimpses of how the residents of Baksha, a village of 2,500 people in the eastern part of the state, are making up their minds about who to support. The previous parts of the series can be read here.