People alleged that political parties have consistently ignored their issues, from the lack of clean water to flood relief.
Kedarnath: At Bedubagad village, on the main road leading to Kedarnath along the Mandakini, the majority of the 80-odd Muslim voters are convinced that no matter which party is voted to power in the constituency, they will continue to suffer from neglect.
“They don’t really care about us. No one listens to us. It is as if all the parties and people around here want us to pack up and leave. We would have been happier in Uttar Pradesh,” said Ghiyasuddin Siddiqui, as he came out of his house to see the supporters of two-time former MLA Asha Nautiyal, who is this time fighting as an independent as she was denied the BJP ticket.
Nautiyal lost to Shaila Rani Rawat of the Congress in 2012 and since Rawat defected along with eight other MLAs led by Vijay Bahuguna, the party preferred her to Nautiyal this time.
But for Ghiyasuddin, all this counts for little. “It does not matter which party comes to power. They just do not work for the Muslims. So be it Nautiyal or Rawat, it actually makes no difference. That is why this village had some time ago given a call to boycott these assembly elections in Uttarakhand,” he told The Wire.
Basic demands not met
Ghiyasuddin also has reasons to be angry. He was one of the two residents of the village whose houses were washed away in June 2013, when the Mandakini burst a dam which was created by a landslide upstream of Kedarnath, wreaking havoc all along its length in the Himalayas.
“Mine was a 30-room house which got washed away. I was subsequently allotted a piece of land by the government, but some influential people who had encroached upon government land disliked it. First they prevented me from taking possession of the land and later they denied me access to it. And when I lodged a complaint with the police, they instead filed an FIR against me on a cross-complaint,” said Ghiyasuddin.
Another resident, B.M. Siddiqui, said even small demands of the community have not been met by the successive governments. “We do not have clean water supply, though we sit right on the banks of the Mandakini; no work has been done at the kabrastan (graveyard) despite repeated requests and the budget remains on files alone; and most importantly a bridge that got washed away in the floods has not been rebuilt,” he said.
The bridge, he added, connected the hamlet to about 15-20 settlements across the river. “Now the residents on both sides have to traverse about 3 km extra in the hilly terrain to reach across. What has made the situation worse is that the trolley that was used to ferry 3-4 people across at a time had also shut down about 6-8 months ago. Also, many of us have farms on the other side and therefore the delay in construction of the bridge is causing us a lot of hardship.”
The two Siddiquis claimed that such treatment is uncalled for. “We are not outsiders here. Our forefathers have been settled here since the time of the rule of the king of Tehri. We are probably ninth-tenth generation here who were born here and who would die here.”
Despite such lamentations, there are a number of resident, like Noor Ahmad, who believe a solution lies in becoming a part of the political system. “I was earlier with the BJP,” he says, adding, “and I am a Mohammedan”.
RSS, BJP cadre against party candidate
But Ahmad said he only supports Nautiyal, who has been in politics for 27 years, because she had done more for the constituency than anyone else. The view was shared by an RSS activist who was supervising the pasting of Nautiyal’s posters. He insisted that the entire RSS cadre and BJP organisation was with Nautiyal. “You can see across the road. Nautiyal had put out posters with the lotus symbol greeting people this new year. But while she was the favourite to get the ticket, it was given to Congress turncoat Shaila Rani Rawat at the behest of Satpal Maharaj, another turncoat. So we are all working for Nautiyal.”
Another BJP activist Vinod Singh said the constituency was witnessing a direct battle between Nautiyal and the Congress candidate, journalist-turned-politician Manoj Rawat. Another strong candidate is a property dealer who has been distributing relief material in the area.
People insist that the anger against Shaila Rani is widespread and she was not allowed to enter parts of the constituency between Guptkashi and Kedarnath. “The allegations against her are that she refused the aid that was offered to be sent by Narendra Modi when he was chief minister of Gujarat. It is also alleged that of the nearly Rs 3 crore that was sent by Bapu Murari for flood relief, she had distributed much of it among her own in parts of Jokholi and Augustmuni only. Thereafter as people’s anger grew, she began looking for a way out and joined the BJP along with then chief minister Vijay Bahuguna and others,” Singh said.
The alleged corruption and inefficiency of the erstwhile Congress government of Bahuguna, who was later removed by the Congress and subsequently joined the BJP, in providing relief and rehabilitation to the flood victims is a key issue in this constituency. And the message is even being (literally) etched in stone by some parties.