An air of mourning hung over the house. Well wishers poured in to commiserate with the family. Krishna Murari Maurya, the head of the family, a bald middle-aged man, was slumped in a chair when his mobile phone rang. He took the call and sat up. Unable to hear over the hum of conversation, he yelled for silence: “Chup ho jayiye.” Then, he began filling the caller with the details of what had happened. “Ji sir, I woke up at 4 am yesterday and found that our three buffaloes had been stolen. Two buffaloes and a calf...”

Maurya’s house is located on the Lucknow-Varanasi highway that passes through Baksha village in eastern Uttar Pradesh’s Jaunpur district. The buffalo-thieves had it easy: the cowshed is built right in front of the house, and the noise of passing vehicles had muffled any sound the animals might have made.

For Maurya, the loss was huge. The oldest buffalo was worth Rs 60,000 on the market, and the other two could together fetch another Rs 30,000. The milk that they produced was not enough to recover the cost of their feed but it formed a vital part of the family’s diet. “Without the milk, how will we slog in the fields?” Maurya asked.

As soon as he had discovered the animals were missing, Maurya had dialled the number 100. True to the mandate of the Uttar Pradesh Police Emergency Management System, launched by chief minister Akhilesh Yadav in 2016, policemen arrived at the farmer’s doorstep within 20 minutes. It helped that Maurya’s house was located less than a kilometre from Baksha police station.

The next day, Maurya had received a follow-up call from the number 100. “Santusht kya hai, sir, meri lakh rupaiye ki chori ho gayi. How can I be satisfied, sir, I have lost about Rs 1 lakh. I will be satisfied only when I get my animals back,” he told the caller, and hung up, frustrated.

“Nothing will come of it,” he said, taking nervous puffs of a beedi. “The police takes money from thieves and tells them: ‘Go from this side, you won’t get caught.’”

The empty cowshed.

“Everybody is doing vikas, but who will keep us safe?” asked Manoj Maurya. It was a rhetorical question. Sitting in the courtyard of his house, the 31-year-old, who is not related to Krishna Murari Maurya, was explaining why he had formally joined the Bharatiya Janata Party. He drew a distinction between “vikas” and “sunwaiyi” – development and the ability to get heard. Akhilesh Yadav did not discriminate between communities while pursuing the state’s development, he said, but the state apparatus remained responsive to only to members of the Yadav community.

“Go to the thana, you won’t get heard if you are not a Yadav,” he said.

For all the reforms that Akhilesh Yadav may have introduced by setting up a police management system and gifting new vehicles to the police, the popular perception in Uttar Pradesh remains that the police and the administration are not to be trusted – in fact, they are to be guarded against. To ensure minimal harassment by the arms of the state, people believe they need political protection. Manoj Maurya has concluded the best bet for him is the BJP.

Only Yadavs are counted in ruling Samajwadi Party and only Chamars are counted in the Bahujan Samaj Party, said Maurya, whose belongs to a community of traditional vegetable growers. “Hum logon ne soocha samajha ki bhai aaj nahi to kal BJP ki sarkar aayegi to humari bhi sunwaiyi hogi.” We thought tomorrow, if not today, the BJP will come to power and we will get heard.

Baksha police station has swanky new bolero vehicles.

Manoj Maurya has a postgraduate degree and wanted to be a teacher. When word spread in 2008 that Mayawati would be creating 72,000 teaching jobs, he went to Haryana and acquired a BEd degree in four months for Rs 75,000. “In Haryana, unlike Uttar Pradesh, when you pay for something, it gets done.” But he fell short of one mark in the Teacher Eligibility Test.

The enterprising man then tried his hand at network marketing, working as an agent for different companies selling everything from insurance, to water purifiers, to Ponzi schemes that promised to double people’s investments. When the promises fell short, and people lost money, he told them that the share market had fallen. “The villagers are illiterate and don’t know better,” he said. “I had to say something to save myself.”

Last year, he fell back on the family’s traditional occupation and set up a shop in the nearby Nauperwa market to sell vegetables. Having campaigned for the BJP in 2014, he also got appointed as one of its booth adhyaksh or election booth managers. “Humne aage badhne ki lalak hai.” I want to get ahead.

An interest in politics is considered atypical among the Mauryas, who see themselves as simple, industrious people with neither the resources nor the cunning to do politics. They are believed to be the most populous group among the Other Backward Classes after the Yadavs. But unlike the Yadavs, who found a leader in Mulayam, Mauryas, in their own admission, have remained tethered to upper caste politicians.

Hira Maurya, a large landowner who contested the last panchayat elections, is seen as the most prominent Maurya leader in Baksha. The old man rued the political ignorance of his community: “Savarna lobby hai, wo haavi hai. The upper caste lobby is dominant. Unke behkaave mein padh jaate hai. Mauryas get fooled by them.”

Minutes later, without a sense of irony, he attributed his allegiance to the BJP to his father’s old association with an upper caste BJP MLA. “Kam se kam samman to mila.” At least, we got some respect.

Even Manoj Maurya traces his interest in the BJP to an acquaintance with Brahmins. “Aana jaana hai brahman varg mein, ucch varg mein. They asked me to join, I agreed. BJP waise bhi hum logon ki humdard rehti thi. BJP has always been sympathetic to us.”

Manoj Maurya, back home after spending the morning selling vegetables in the Nauperwa market.

In recent years, the BJP has been assiduously cultivating Maurya votes. In April 2016, it appointed Keshav Prasad Maurya, a little known leader, as its state president. In June, it engineered the resignation of Bahujan Samaj Party leader Swami Prasad Maurya, who went on to join the BJP in August.

Underpinning these moves is the belief that people draw comfort from community networks and favour parties that give their leaders prominence.

The Samajwadi Party has used the same strategy to woo other OBC groups, in particular, the Prajapatis, or Kumhars, who are traditional potters.

In Baksha’s Prajapati quarter, on the wall of a house, hangs a photograph of its resident touching the feet of Gayatri Prasad Prajapati, the Samajwadi MLA and minister, who is believed to be among Mulayam Singh Yadav’s closest lieutenants.

After he pulled off a surprise election victory in 2012 from the Gandhi pocket borough of Amethi, Prajapati rose rapidly within the Samajwadi Party, and was given the key ministerial portfolios of irrigation, mining and transport in the Akhilesh Yadav government.

For Phul Chand Bhargava in Baksha, the clearest sign of Prajapati’s prominence was that in the 2014 Lok Sabha election, he was assigned a helicopter to campaign for the party.

“Gayatri Prasad Prajapati ko main lakh lakh bahdhaiyi deta ho. I heartily congratulate Gayatri Prasad Prajapati,” said an effusive Bhargava, unable to contain his delight at the rise of a leader from his community. In his 50 years, he had never seen a Prajapati leader get so far ahead in the corridors of power, he said.

His wife, who sat listening to the conversation, interjected, gruffly: “Kaam nahi kiye. He didn’t do our work.”

“So what?” shot back Bhargava. “Kam nahi kiye, lekin kam se kam apni biradari mein ek naam to kiye hai. Ek jhanda to gaad diya hai.” He didn’t do the work but at least he has earned a name for us.

The photograph on their wall dates back to 2014 when Bhargava and his wife had travelled to Amethi to meet Prajapati. Since 1998, Bhargava had worked as a bus conductor on a contractual basis in the Uttar Pradesh State Transport Corporation, earning wages on the basis of the kilometres travelled. In 2011, he suffered a paralytic attack, after which he was laid off. When Prajapati was appointed transport minister, Bhargava’s hopes of getting reinstated rose. He used his community networks to get an appointment with the minister.

“Mantri ji kahe file pe turant order kar dijeye. The minister ordered immediate action on my file,” he said. “But if bade babu does not follow his orders, it is not the minister’s fault.”

Unemployed, Bhargava now harbours political ambitions. He clashed with the village pradhan, who belongs to the Yadav community, over the construction of a village road. The matter got escalated to the level of the local MLA, Parasnath Yadav of the Samajwadi Party. According to Bhargava, the Yadav pradhan appealed to the Yadav MLA: “Chachha ab bachai len nahi to kuhare ke haath aheeran ki izzat jaat ba.” Save me, otherwise a Yadav will lose face to a Kumhar. The MLA took the pradhan’s side.

Yet Bhargava still supports the Samajwadi Party since he is hopeful of long-term gains from the connection with Gayatri Prasad Prajapati.

“Ek aadmi aage jaa raha hai to kam se kam uske peeche aap bhi line mein lago to ho sakta hai dhakka maar ke aap bhi train mein chad jaon.” If a person is forging ahead, and you line up behind him, there are chances you will also get to board the train.

In the picture on the left: Phul Chand Bhargava bends to touch the feet of Gayatri Prasad Prajapati.

But there is a fragility to the hopes pinned on community leaders.

Akhilesh Yadav sacked Gayatri Prasad Prajapati from his ministry in late 2016 following charges of corruption and land grab, which had led to a Lokayukta probe. He was reinstated on Mulayam’s intervention. But under a resurgent Akhilesh Yadav, his stature stands diminished. While he has been given a ticket to contest from Amethi, Prajapati faces a notice from the election commission – a truck carrying 4,000 saris was seized on the way to his constituency.

Maurya leaders aren’t faring well in the BJP either. Swami Prasad Maurya was rumoured to be in talks with other parties after the BJP ignored his ticket recommendations. Keshav Prasad Maurya may be state party president but he features nowhere in conversations around possible BJP chief ministerial candidates. Among Mauryas, there is disappointment over his inability to significantly expand the tickets for the community.

In Baksha, Manoj Maurya, the booth manager of the party, did not hide his disappointment. “If Keshav Prasad wanted, he could have uplifted his people, but he did not,” he said.

Then, rationalising the situation, he said: “Election ladhne waala vyakti hota hai, usme har avgun vidyamaan hona chahiye. Those who fight elections must have every possible flaw. Wo maarta hai, gaali deta hai, chori bhi karta hai, har dhang se neta banata hai. Only when he is violent, hurls abuses, steals, does he qualify as a leader.”

His conclusion: Mauryas, by virtue of being simple people, did not make for good candidates.

Meanwhile, three days after his buffaloes were stolen, Krishna Murari Maurya was shocked to discover that the police had still not even filed a First Information Report in the case.

Over the next few weeks leading up to the Uttar Pradesh elections,’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.