It is the last day of voting in Uttar Pradesh. One of the 40 constituencies in the eastern part of the state where polling will be held today is Malhani in Jaunpur district. One of the villages in this constituency is Baksha.
Over the last two months, Scroll.in has brought you glimpses of life and politics in this village, which is home to about 2,500 people. In the first week of January, the fields were awash with yellow mustard flowers. People were lining up outside the bank to withdraw their money. There was anger against notebandi. The Samajwadi Party was about to split. Only the Bahujan Samaj Party had announced a candidate. No one knew who was likely to win the election.
Now the mustard has been harvested and the wheat is ripening. Eight candidates are in the fray. The people of Baksha will be lining up outside the middle school that functions as the polling booth to cast their vote. It is still not clear who is winning the election. But some other things are clear about life in the village.
If you are a young man, you are likely to migrate
Nearly every family in Baksha, regardless of caste and community, has sent away young men to work in distant places. The remittances they send help their families buy land and build homes. This isn’t a new trend – Hira Maurya, a man in his sixties, recounted how his father worked in the Eveready factory in Kolkata decades ago. Now people are travelling longer distances. Peer Mohammad worked for several years in Malaysia. Rakesh Prajapati left for Kerala weeks ago. The more common destinations are Mumbai, Delhi and Gujarat. Those who cannot stand the horrors of city life have to perforce turn entrepreneurial. They open shops, start small businesses or gravitate to politics – like 20-year-old Vikas Chaurasia, a rookie reporter who joined the BJP.
The life of a young woman is even tougher
Young men struggle to find work but young women aren’t allowed to work – not for a salary, at least. The women of Baksha slog in their homes and fields. They cook, clean, wash, sow, harvest, but they don’t make money. Girls are encouraged to get a college education but for the cynical purpose of negotiating a lower dowry in the marriage market. When Dimple Chaurasia was offered a teaching job, her mother was supportive but her brothers blocked her path. Denied basic freedoms, women lack the confidence to exercise political choice. They follow the lead of the men at the time of voting. But some young women are breaking free – like Aradhana Vishwakarma, who works in a factory, and is voting for the Samajwadi Party, among other things, in the hope of getting a free smartphone.
Your choice of work is influenced by caste
Many people continue to follow the caste-based occupation inherited from their family. All the barber shops in the village, barring one, are run by men belonging to the Nai caste. Most cowherds are from the Yadav caste, the shepherds are from the Pal caste, the vegetable-growers are Mauryas. Many tailors are Muslims from the Darzi or Idris community. When moving out of their inherited occupation, people look for a related one. It is acceptable for Kumhrars, or traditional potters, to become masons, since it involves working with soil. But Telis or oil-pressers would rather set up a grocery shop since they think of themselves as merchants. There are only three Teli families in the village. They are voting for the Bharatiya Janata Party – as Shanti Gupta said, because Prime Minister Narendra Modi is a Teli.
Caste acts as a filter for development
With caste continuing to shape people’s work choices and worldview, it is hardly surprising that it shapes their political preferences. But caste loyalties aren’t just primordial, they are also pragmatic. In Baksha, the village head is a Yadav. Seven of the 18 housing grants under the state scheme, Lohia Awaas Yojana, were allotted to Yadavs. Only one Dalit family qualified for the grant. The scheme itself is flawed since it excludes families below the poverty line. Data shows a higher proportion of Dalits and Adivasis live below the poverty line. But it isn’t just welfare benefits, even the ability to get the police to act on a complaint is influenced by caste. Jaati is the gateway to both vikaas (development) and sunwaiyi (the ability to get heard).
You can’t depend on the government. So you look for a leader you can depend on
The government’s social welfare is so weak and arbitrary that the rich in Baksha have made it to the list of beneficiaries under the National Food Security Act, while the poor have been left out. For months, children have not been served hot cooked meals in angwanwadis. The state’s failure to provide a safety net for the poor has created a vacuum which is filled by dubious politicians who distribute largesse. By far the most popular candidate in the constituency is Dhananjay Singh, a bahubali with a string of criminal cases against him. But his criminal record does not matter – for most people, it is enough that he makes generous donations at the time of weddings and funerals.
The path to politics is paved by lineage and money
To his credit, Dhananjay Singh has built his own fortune. He was born in an ordinary family and his father worked for a bank. Two other candidates in the fray are riding off the wealth of their families. Vivek Yadav of the Bahujan Samaj Party is a foreign-returned scion of an elite political family which owns large estates, colleges, petrol pumps and other businesses in Jaunpur. Satish Singh of the Bharatiya Janata Party is a local zamindar, and his family is best known for hosting an orchestra on the last night of Ram Lila every year. The fourth candidate in the fray is a mantri – Parasnath Yadav of the Samajwadi Party who was a minister in the Akhilesh Yadav government. Like Dhananjay Singh, Parasnath has humble antecedents, but now that he’s made it in politics, he is promoting his son Lucky Yadav, in keeping with the dynastic tradition of the state.
A voter has a lot to think about: caste, candidate, chief minister, prime minister
Between the bahubali, the khandaani, the mantri, the choice for the voter is complex. There are two Yadavs and two Thakurs. Many Yadavs prefer Vivek Yadav over Parasnath Yadav, but balk at voting for the Bahujan Samaj Party which they identify with Dalits. Aware of the anti-incumbency against Parasnath, the Samajwadi Party has been campaigning in the name of Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav. The Bharatiya Janata Party, on its part, has been foregrounding Prime Minister Narendra Modi. While the party appears to have expanded its social base by wooing non-Yadav OBCs, its upper caste vote might split because Dhananjay Singh is a Thakur. As the people of Baksha say: “Kuch vote jaati ka, kuch party ka, kuch vyaktigat.“ Some vote for their caste, some for their party, others for the person.
Nobody wants to waste a vote
Dalits are considered fiercely loyal to the Bahujan Samaj Party, particularly the Chamars, the caste to which Mayawati belongs. In the Harijan basti of Baksha, the party flag flutters on the top of homes. “Daliton ki Devi”, or the goddess of Dalits, is how Mayawati is described. Yet, on polling eve, a young man confided that things were in a flux. “Abhi nishkarsh nahi nikla hai,” he said. The decision on whom to vote for was yet to be made. People were torn, he said, between their loyalty to Behenji and their gratitude to Dhananjay Singh, who had helped many of them. Everywhere in the village, people asked each other – and this reporter: “Kaun nikal raha hai?” Who is winning? Everybody wanted to vote for the winner, except no one knows who it was. Said Mohammad Mukhtar Ali, a disabled tailor who makes up his mind based on the popular sentiment: “Iss baar chaupaiyi chal rahi hai.” It is a four-cornered contest. “Koi mood nahi nikal raha hai.” There is no clear mood. Ali was hopeful the fog would lift in the morning before he went to vote.
Scroll.in’s “A Village Votes” series brought readers glimpses of how the residents of Baksha, a village of 2,500 people in the eastern part of the state, made up their minds about whom to support. The other parts of the series can be read here.