Voting in Prayagraj’s Juhi Kothi village isn’t an individual choice. It is one individual’s choice, which becomes almost everyone’s pick. Meet Duijji Amma, the 70-year-old woman who not only settles villagers’ disputes but also influences their voting patterns. Whoever Amma picks, voters in this village cast their vote for. Unsurprisingly, the 2020 Uttar Pradesh assembly election will likely witness something similar in this small village located in Shankar Garh block.
True, local leaders campaign here, political messages reach the people through various social media platforms and TVs in some of the houses, which do influence people’s voting choices. But by and large, villagers say they vote for whoever Duijji Amma picks – in the evening before the day of voting.
How do political parties take it? Duijji Amma meets anyone who comes to her. She greets them and affectionately tells them that she would do her best for them. “Zaroor karab (I will definitely do it),” she usually tells them. Sometimes she says, “Abhi to bahut din baqui hai (there is a lot of time left in the election),” when she meets someone impatient to gain her support.
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A community leader unlike any
Duijji Amma belongs to the Kol community, the biggest tribal community in this region even though it is recognised as Schedule Caste by the Uttar Pradesh government. The people of the community have been demanding their Schedule Tribe status. Duijji Amma, who is not school-educated, understands the community’s concern and raises the matter with every political party that contacts her. She is alert, analytical and makes decisions based on her insights. When asked how she decides which party and candidate to vote for, she replied: “Jaan sunkar (by knowing and listening).”
Duijji Amma has a big family with sons, daughters and daughters-in-law. They live in separate huts, but with peace and harmony. She makes brooms and sells them in nearby villages. She takes the leaves of taad (palm) and khajoor (date palm) from the forest and makes the brooms. She is an undeclared community leader who has acquired her position through ‘trust’, cultivated over a long period of social relation with villagers who call her ‘amma’. She helps and supports everyone during their bad times, villagers say.
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Lesser-known, marginalised leaders
The traditional human structure of building relationships is no less important than our modern, democratic constituents such as rationality and criticality in making Duijji Amma’s societal position of a ‘leader’ in Juhi Kothi village. We can find many such social leaders like her in various marginal communities. Unfortunately, neither we know nor do we understand these faces who critically shape the catalogue of Indian electoral democracy. They are neither elected leaders nor pradhans, but many of them acquire greater legitimacy and acceptability than those elected. The Khap Choudhury or Caste Choudhury have some similarities but the form of leadership developed and passed on by the likes of Duijji Amma is different.
Duijji Amma talks about Prime Minister Narendra Modi and admires his free ration and pension programme. She also speaks of Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath, and admires Priyanka Gandhi and Akhilesh Yadav. But she is yet to decide who she – and thus a large number of people in Juhi Kothi village – will vote for in the 2022 Uttar Pradesh assembly election. As always, it will be known on the last evening before the day of voting, she says.
The author is Professor and Director at the G.B. Pant Social Science Institute, Allahabad. He tweets @poetbadri. Views are personal.
(Edited by Prashant)