In This Chitrakoot Village, a Glimpse Into the Many Issues at Play in UP Elections

From displacement and unemployment to stray cattle and the farming crisis, residents of Rasin face a range of issues. However, their caste locations continue to be a major influence on which party they will vote for.

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Chitrakoot, UP: Two women from Rasin village in Uttar Pradesh’s Bundelkhand region are returning from the forest after a day of collecting firewood. They are among the several families that were displaced by the Rasin dam project.

Asked to comment on the ongoing assembly elections in the state, Bijuri Devi says, “The government has done a lot of damage. Everything has been ruined. We have settled down for now, but soon they will uproot us from here as well. Earlier, we used to work on our own lands, but now we have to work as labourers. The poor get neither houses in colonies nor toilets nor cooking gas. The government has snatched from us our very lives. What can we do?”  

Devi and Rajkumari lost seven bighas of agricultural land to the construction of the dam. They are landless now and work as daily wage labourers. They state that they received Rs 90,000 as compensation for their house but have not been fully compensated for their agricultural land. 

Rajkumari. Photo: Manoj Singh/The Wire

They are now residing in a house along the road. One of Devi’s sons has moved to another city for work while the other works as a labourer in the village. Devi says that the entire village was uprooted because of the project. People lost houses and lands. Now, they have been displaced to areas adjacent to the dam.

The hydro project was launched as the Chaudhary Charan Singh Irrigation Project in 2003 by the then Mayawati government. Notorious for renaming cities and projects, the Yogi Adityanath government renamed it Rasin Dam Project. At the outset, the project’s cost was estimated at Rs 17.25 crore.

When Adityanath inaugurated it on March 10 last year, all the signboards and walls of the dam were painted saffron. He hopes to take credit for completing the project, which is currently irrigating 2,290 hectares of land in 17 villages and is benefitting 3,625 farmers, though complaints of canals running dry are quite common. Meanwhile, the farmers affected by the project have still not been compensated and hundreds of them are forced to work as labourers.

Plauqe near the Rasin Dam in UP’s Chitrakoot. Photo: Manoj Singh/The Wire

The Dalit community in the village claims that the project was Mayawati’s initiative, but the Brahmins of the village ascribe it to Chandrika Prasad Upadhyay, the Chitrakoot MLA who is from the village and is a minister in the state cabinet, and list it as one of his achievements.

Rasin village of the Karvi block comes under the Chitrakoot assembly constituency of Bundelkhand. The Chitrakoot district has two assemblies – Chitrakoot and Manikpur – where polling is slated to be held in the fifth phase on February 27.

Upadhyay, the minister of state for public works, hails from Rasin. Upadhyay had won the 2017 elections on the BJP’s ticket, defeating Samajwadi Party (SP)’s Veer Singh. The BSP candidate came third. This year, the BJP has once again fielded Upadhyay while the SP has nominated Anil Kumar Pradhan. The BSP nominated Pushpendra Singh. Nirmala is in the fray from the Congress while Amit Yadav is the CPI candidate.

According to the 2011 census, the village has more than 1,600 households and a population of 8,786. The villagers, however, claim that the population of the village, divided into 42 purvas or quarters, is more than 15,000.

More than 21% of the village population is Dalit, with Jatavs being the largest sub-caste. Among the backward castes are Kurmis, Harakhs, Yadavs, Kumhars, and Kahars, while Brahmins primarily constitute the upper caste population.

At the first purva in the village, the construction of an interlocking road near the closed office of the Regional Sadhan Sahkari Samiti is going on at a brisk pace. At a nearby kiosk, four or five people are discussing the elections. Savouring a paan, Raja Mishra observes that there will be a tough contest between the BJP and the SP in the area. 

“It will be a thrilling battle,” he said. “The outcome cannot be predicted yet.”

Mishra believed that the BSP is not a contender.

He describes Upadhyay’s tenure as “average” and claimed that no high-level work has been carried out under him, except the construction of the road.

Ram Nayan, a staunch BJP supporter, says that the entire Brahmin community is with the BJP. “We vote for the party. We have always voted for the BJP,” he said.

When asked to list five achievements of the BJP, he said, “A temple is being built in Ayodhya. Another was built in Varanasi. Yet another is planned in Mathura.”

What about the question of rising unemployment? Ram Nayan turns defensive as he responds, “The government is doing whatever it can.”

Two young men – Ravi Shukla and Pawan Shukla – donning saffron gamchhas join the discussion. They are on their way back from a nearby village after campaigning for Upadhyay. Ravi Shukla introduced himself as a ‘total Hindutvawadi’ and proclaimed, “We are with Yogi.” He said unemployment is not an issue in the current election. 

“The best thing to have happened in this government is that caste-based reservation has not been given. It was difficult for Brahmins to get jobs. The BJP government has done a good job by giving 10% reservation to the upper castes. In fact, we want reservation to be abolished,” he added.

On the other hand, Pawan Shukla admitted that stray cattle are a menace for farmers, who he says are suffering a lot. However, he said that they still support the BJP.

Other parts of the village also have this brand of ‘total Hindutvawadis’. Durvijay Singh of the Arakh community in the Puran purva, for instance, said, “Mantriji (The minister) got a lot of work done. Roads have been built, dams constructed and gaushalas set up. Whatever people say, the minister has done a lot for the village.”

Singh believes that the BJP faces a tough challenge from the SP in the constituency. Rooting for the ruling party, he denied that inflation is a poll issue as it keeps on fluctuating.

Residents of Rasin’s Puran quarter. Photo: Manoj Singh/The Wire

Another young man, Ram Bhavadi, refuted Singh’s claim. “Inflation has increased manifold under this government,” he says. “Look at the price of cooking oil and petrol. The poor are suffering due to price rise.”

Ram Bhavadi has completed BEd and is now pursuing an MA degree. He used to run a school in the village that closed down in March 2020 due to the national coronavirus lockdown. As a result, he had to take up daily wage labour. 

“Because of the financial crisis, I had to pick up a shovel, something I had never done in my life,” he says. “I got a job card issued and worked as a labourer. Since last year, I have done 75 days of labour work under the MNREGA but I haven’t received complete payment till now.”

He says he is influenced by Akhilesh Yadav. “He did good work for the youth during his tenure. For young voters, unemployment is a crucial issue. No educated person will support this government. Do you know what this government did to shiksha mitras?”

Pointing to a person who has just arrived on a bike, he said, “He is a shiksha mitra who used to earn Rs 40,000 under Akhilesh Yadav’s government but now he is getting only Rs 10,000. Ask him what’s on his mind.”

But the shiksha mitra refused to respond to any question saying, “It’s a long story.”

In the Dalit ghetto of Rasin village, this scribe met a dozen people sitting over a culvert. Among them is Chhotelal, who is listening to a song about B.R. Ambedkar on his mobile. “You need to do away with these EVMs,” he says. “I don’t understand this machine. We press the button for one but the vote goes to another. I pressed the button for BSP’s elephant in the last election but it went to Modi’s lotus symbol.”

A person explains to Chhotelal that this time, a slip will come out after pressing the button. “If the slip bears another party’s symbol than the one voted for, then you can get it scrapped immediately,” he explains.

Analysing the electoral trend in the village, Chhotelal says, “Brahmins are divided between two groups – one for the SP and the other for the BJP. But we are all united.”

When asked about the position of the BSP, he says, “Whether they call it weak or strong, we will remain with the BSP.”

Chhotelal complains that Dalit farmers have neither received any financial support under the PM Kisan Samman Nidhi, nor have access to housing and toilets.

Another village resident in the group, Chandu, says that stray cattle are causing a lot of nuisance in the village. “They demand a donation of Rs 1,000 to supply fodder at the gaushala and claim that there is a dearth of funds. But when the government has built a gaushala, why should we pay for it? If the government can pay salaries to the employees there, why can’t it arrange money for fodder?” he asks.

According to him, unemployment is a major issue. Youngsters in the village are forced to migrate, he says.

When asked about Chandrika Prasad Upadhyay’s term, he sarcastically points towards Raja Mishra’s locality and says, “Look, there is a road being built for just one person. That’s a lot of work.”

Lala purva resident Kallu Verma soon joined the group and said angrily, “No one listens to the lower caste people. At the time of demonetisation, bankers refused to give us money while the upper caste, rich people easily got it. We were not granted colony housing. The officials say that we have a house. Arre, where is the house? A tiny shack is what they call a house. I work as a labourer in Gujarat and am here on leave. I am not getting ration in the village. The kotedar says that since I do not live in the village, I will not get any ration. I get into a fight with everyone because I do not bow down easily. If the government employee does not do his work, he must face our anger.”

Baba, an elderly man singing a song about Ambedkar, says, “Under this government, Dalits got neither job nor food. We would have long been dead if it were not for our land.”

He says that half the young population of the village has moved to Haryana, Punjab and other states and won’t even be able to cast their votes. 

Though he paints a bleak picture, his song is hopeful. The song foregrounds the constitution and Ambedkar’s role in it. If citizens follow the constitution, the country will transform for the better, he sings. He also urges the people to open schools and madrassas and seek knowledge to gain prosperity. He hopes for a day when farmers have land, electricity and water, and feudal culture is lifted, for a new dawn when “wrongdoers are be thrown behind bars” and loans are waived off.

Baba, the singer. Photo: Manoj Singh/The Wire

Near the Rasin dam project, some more members of the Dalit community sit on the side of a well.  “Earlier, the minister used to live in the village. But he resides in Chitrakoot now and rarely visits the village. The poll campaign is on and all the parties have sent their representatives but he is not here yet. In his own village, he will be the last to arrive,” say Radheshyam, Mohan and Dadu Dayal.

When asked what work has been done by the minister, he says, “Look, the road is under construction because it is time for the election. The atmosphere is not favourable, it has changed.”

Dadu Dayal complains that while he has received funds under the PM Kisan Samman Nidhi Scheme, he has not yet been allotted colony housing. When asked who he will vote for, he says, “It is difficult to say as of now. We are considering the equations. There are different parties, so we will look at the party before voting.”

“Each of us has our own calculations,” interrupts Mohan. “We will stick to ours.”

Dadu Dayal’s 14 bighas of land were acquired for the Rasin dam project. He has still not received a single penny in compensation.

Soon a young man, Rohit Tripathi, wearing a saffron gamcha and a saffron mask, joins the group and says, “The minister tried to get compensation but the engineers did not do their work. No compensation was granted. About 75% of the people affected by the dam project have not been compensated. Many applications were submitted and there was a lot of hue and cry but to no avail.”

Why couldn’t the minister ensure that the people of his own village are compensated despite his high position? Tripathi replies dejectedly, “What can we do? Even I lost 20 bighas of land to the dam project. The government has fixed the rate at Rs 22,000 per bigha while the actual rate is Rs 7-8 lakh.” 

The Rasin dam project in UP’s Chitrakoot. Photo: Manoj Singh/The Wire

“Had we been granted compensation at the market rate, we could have bought land elsewhere. But all work has come to a halt,” he adds.

“You must raise the issue,” says Dadu Dayal. “Journalists are supporting the government nowadays. You can escalate an issue as much as you want.”

Amid the discussion on displacement, Madhav Tripathi also joins in. He is wearing a saffron garland around his neck and raises the issue of gaushalas not having money. The officials are being negligent, he said. When asked why the minister was unable to get the budget allocated, he did not respond.

Despite receiving no compensation, Rohit is campaigning for the BJP and hopes that Adityanath is elected for a second term. Madhav Tripathi has a similar desire. He says, “Some members of the Brahmin community may be wavering for now but ultimately, they will vote for the BJP.”