Unnao: A week after announcing Sangeeta Sengar’s name as part of a list of Zila Panchyat Poll candidates for five districts in Uttar Pradesh, the BJP sunday withdrew her nomination.
Sangeeta is the wife of four-time MLA Kuldeep Sengar, who was convicted last year for raping a 16-year-old girl in 2017. He has been in jail since.
The BJP’s decision in giving a poll ticket to his wife had drawn widespread criticism on social media. UP legislative assembly member, Aradhana Misra-Mona tweeted, “BJP leaders during election campaign in West Bengal promise anti-Romeo squad to protect women and in UP give ticket its former MLA Kuldeep Sengar’s wife in Panchayat polls. So much for double speak!”
Aam Aadmi Party’s Ajit Tyagi also criticised the decision.
While the BJP had earlier defended its decision and questioned why a wife should be punished for something done by her husband, the party finally gave in to pressure, with BJP state president Swantantra Dev Singh announcing Sunday the decision to withdraw Sangeeta’s name from the list of candidates.
ThePrint reached Dev Singh and BJP district president Raj Kishore Rawat over phone but there was no response till the publishing of this report. A party insider, however, told ThePrint that the social media outrage was one of the factors behind the withdrawal of Sangeeta’s name. The party also got negative feedback from the ground on this candidature.
ThePrint’s experiences on ground were, however, different.
Sengar’s conviction, has done little to take away from the support enjoyed by him and his family among the common people of his village and constituency, where he is still regarded as a leader who would always be ready to help those in need.
ThePrint travelled this week to Kuldeep Sengar’s ancestral village, Makhi, and the constituency of Fatehpur Chaurasi Tritya, from where Sangeeta was supposed to contest, to get a feeling of on-ground sentiments.
Sympathy for Sengar
In the UP hinterland, villages are littered with posters of Panchyat poll candidates, posing with folded hands, as they ask to be voted to office. The walls of Sengar’s house in Makhi are also pasted with some of these posters.
However, posters with Sengar’s name or face are missing from the village this year.
Yet, though Sengar is not a part of poll campaigns anymore, he is still very much a part of conversations in the village.
“Humar logan ke lie to bade neek hain. Barbar see baithwat rahe, madad karat rahe, lambardaran ki ladai mein sab bhawa hai (For us, he was good man. He asked us sit along with him. He helped us whenever we asked him. This case was a dispute between two thakur families),” said Ram Khilawan, a 78-year-old farmer from the neighbourhood.
Another local, Rajesh, who owns a sweet shop in the area, echoed his words. “Itne bhadiya hain, raah chalte gaadi bhi rok lo (He was such a good politician that one could go and stop his car and talk to him).”
Sengar has been in jail for more than a year now for raping a 16-year-old girl in 2017. The Delhi High Court has sentenced him to 10-year jail with a fine of Rs 25 lakh. But the conviction means little to the people of Makhi.
On festivals like Holi and Diwali, Sengar’s workers and the villagers put up hoardings stating, “Jail ke taale tootenge, Sengar bhaiya chootenge.” His loyalists have a dedicated Facebook page with similar slogans to gather support for the leader.
The buzz at the camp office
At Sengar’s camp office in Unnao, party workers are gathered to strategise on the coming polls. The tier-three panchayat polls across 58,189 villages will be conducted in four phases between 14 April and 29 April. Results will be announced on 2 May.
Sangeeta Sengar is present at the office, sitting in a room inside. But though ThePrint team waited hours to talk to her, she refused to either meet or talk to journalists.
A family member who has been with her since her husband’s conviction said, “We have been put in a bad light by the national media. We will not talk about anything as this election is crucial to us. Sangeeta ji has been in public life for the past 15 years. She has also been a Zila Panchyat chairperson since 2016.”
Here too, there is little impact of Sengar’s conviction. Dozens of cars are parked inside the office and there is both enthusiasm and a hum of action among the workers [this was before Sangeeta’s nomination was cancelled].
‘A shrewd man’
‘I have gone to his house in Unnao several times when he was a member of the Samajwadi Party (SP). Svarthi aadmi hai (He is a selfish man),” a former senior SP leader, who has worked closely with Sengar told ThePrint on condition of anonymity.
“He inherited a lot of wealth from his maternal family. After that, he and his brothers got involved in the illegal sand dune thekas in the Ganga region. His brother, Atul, has a bad reputation.”
Sengar won from the Bangarmau constituency on a Samajwadi Party ticket in 2007. In 2017, he contested from the same constituency on a BJP ticket. The Fatehpur Chaurasi Tritya panchayat falls under this constituency.
The zila panchayat was divided over whether BJP did the right thing by nominating Sangeeta Sengar. While the upper castes (Thakurs and Pandits) have written away the conviction as a plot by BJP rivals, sub-castes (Pasis, Pals and Yadavs) believe there must be some truth in the charge or else why would a ‘big agency’ like the CBI send the leader to jail.
“The CBI doesn’t frame people without any evidence. He must have done something,” said Raju Pal of Ishwar Khedi village in the area.
“The case was a fraud. Sengar’s brother is dreaded here, but the rape cases are false. If there is a dispute among families, they bring in women and file a rape or harassment case,” said Horilal, a farmer from Mathar in the Fatehpur Chaurasi Zila Panchaayat .
Ask him if he was a shrewd man, and he questions back, ‘What is wrong in being a shrewd man? He will only be able to employ people or solve our grievances [if he is shrewd]. A noble person only pleads, but a shrewd person gets your job done.’
(Edited by Poulomi Banerjee)
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