In a remote corner of Saraiyan village in Hardoi, the Pasis (Dalit) are faced with a dilemma.
Despite their general anger with the BJP government, they are unable to choose between the BJP’s Jai Prakash Rawat and the Samajwadi Party’s Usha Verma, both members of their community. If Ms. Verma, a former MP, is criticised for not doing enough during her tenure, Mr. Rawat, a four-time MP with stints with the SP and Bahujan Samaj Party, is also not credible. Even the outgoing BJP MP Anshul Verma, also a Pasi, who was denied ticket and later dramatically resigned by submitting his letter to the chowkidar outside the BJP headquarters, is denounced for being an absentee MP and allegedly spending more time in Chandigarh.
The villagers, who have gathered at a corner, threaten boycotting their vote. However, this is not just prompted by the lack of a preferable candidate but by a more urgent infrastructural requirement. The road connecting to the main road is bad, forcing them to take a detour of 3 km, which not only escalates transportation costs but also poses challenges during health emergencies.
‘No road, no vote’
“All the three MPs belong to our caste but no work has been done on the road since the era of Indira Gandhi. Whoever builds this road will get our vote,” said Hariram Rawat, a labourer.
The locals are angry with the BJP for discontinuing the 102 emergency ambulance service of the SP government, costly refills of the ‘free’ cooking gas under the Ujjwala scheme and increased power bills even when the transformer is not functioning properly. “They take us for granted,” said Vidhya Shyam Prakash, arguing that since the MPs of Hardoi have traditionally been Pasis, they are not motivated to visit or develop their areas.
Mr. Prakash, however, faces his own dilemma: while he is happy that the alleged slaughter of cows has stopped under the Yogi Adityanath government, he is badly hit by the stray cattle issue. “I’m not sure whom to vote for,” he said.
Hardoi is one of the 17 reserved seats in U.P. and Sairayan gives us a snapshot of the complexities of the Dalit community. Not only are the Pasis the second largest Dalit caste in the State at 16%, they are also concentrated in parts of central U.P., making them a crucial voters’ segment. They are up for grabs as they don’t have any loyalty to a single leader or party, unlike the Jatavs who rally behind BSP chief Mayawati.
Not just Hardoi, where two Pasis are directly in contest, the community weight is also critical in other constituencies, including Sitapur, Bahraich, Faizabad, Mohanlalganj, Domariaganj, Misrikh, Machlishahr, Pratapgarh, Barabanki, Kaushambi, Phulpur, Allahabad, Bansgaon, Unnao, Amethi and Rae Bareli. Which way will the community swing?
Anger against BJP
In Lukmanpur village, where Brahmins and Dalits live together, the Pasis are unhappy with the dominant caste for not sharing the fruits of development. There is also anger against the BJP. Maniram Rawat, a daily wage earner, lives in a thatched hut with his four children and wife. The dwelling has no power or toilet, and several surveys have failed to provide him a pucca house. “Last time I voted Modi, now never again,” he said, adding that his wife no longer gets the SP pension for poor families.
The Pasi pocket of the village has broken muddy roads and during monsoons they transform into rivers. But one Nanhe Lal says despite the poor conditions, the BJP governments have provided them toilets, ₹2,000, free cooking gas and loan waiver. “Nobody else gave us anything,” he said.
In the 2019 election, several of the BJP MPs denied ticket were Pasis. The only Union Minister from the caste, Krishna Raj, was not fielded again from Shahjahanpur, while Priyanka Rawat wept publicly after being replaced in Barabanki. Another Pasi, Savitri Bai Phule, Bahraich MP, quit the BJP and joined the Congress, and is the fray again, while Mr. Anshul Verma also resigned and joined the SP, asking if only Dalit MPs were incompetent.
The question is, will this discontent among a section of Pasis hurt the BJP? It is unlikely, says Ram Kripal Pasi, president of the Pasi Jagrit Mandal.