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Dalits lash out at BJP leaders’ visits to their homes, call them ‘pointless’ and a ‘farce’

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At the end of BJP’s Dalit outreach programme, Gram Swaraj Abhiyan, members of the community say they won’t fall for the party’s ‘vote-bank politics’.

Amroha/Aligarh: On 21 April, the pradhan of the nondescript Mehandipur village in Amroha district, Priyanka Devi, and her husband Gajendra Singh had a surprise visitor. A local BJP worker dropped in to inform them that Uttar Pradesh chief minister Yogi Adityanath would come to their house for dinner on 26 April.

In the next few days, this household saw a string of visitors – top police and district officials who came in to oversee arrangements, logistics and security measures. The sub-divisional magistrate, in fact, gave them the entire menu to be cooked in their kitchen and served to the CM – arhar dal, aloo parwal, lauki, tori, rice, chapatis, mooli-chukandar salad, and guavas. The vegetable and grocery shopping had to be done by the family.

On 26 April, a district official supervised the cooking, and once ready, tasted the food. At 9 pm, the CM reached the house with around 10 other people. Dinner was promptly served by the family members to Adityanath and those accompanying him, who sat on a mat on the floor to eat. Within “15 minutes”, the entourage – done with their dinner and short interactions – left the house. Adityanath then spent the night at the Saraswati Vidya Mandir nearby.

A house visited by Yogi Adityanath
A house visited by Yogi Adityanath | ThePint

Dalit outreach

The UP CM visited this village as part of the BJP’s Dalit outreach programme, Gram Swaraj Abhiyan, which ran from 14 April to 5 May to mark Dr B.R. Ambedkar’s birth anniversary. Under this programme, the government sought to provide 21,058 identified villages from across the country (each with a large number of underprivileged households) with the benefits of seven welfare programmes. As part of this campaign, Prime Minister Narendra Modi asked all BJP MPs and ministers to spend time in villages and bastis (shantytowns) with more than 50 per cent Scheduled Caste (SC) population.

With Lok Sabha elections due next year, Uttar Pradesh is of utmost importance, given that it sends 80 MPs to the lower house. Around 21 per cent of the state’s population is SC, a crucial constituency by any measure. In the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, BJP won as many as 71 seats in the state, and in 2017, swept the assembly elections, winning 325 of the 403 seats. Retaining a healthy number in the state next year and ensuring at least a section of Dalits vote for it are critical to the BJP.

These visits by BJP leaders, however, seem to have served just one purpose – of being convenient photo opportunities. Neither do these Dalit households feel they have benefited at all through these parachuting visits, nor do they seem inclined to help BJP achieve the underlying objective of this – gaining the crucial Dalit vote.

A house visited by Yogi Adityanath
A house visited by Yogi Adityanath | ThePrint

 

Financial burden

More than ten days since the Yogi’s visit, Gajendra Singh says it achieved precious little, except put a “financial burden” on his family.

Ahead of the visit, the implementation of several schemes and execution of work in the village was speeded up. Between 21 April and 26 April, ration cards were allotted to all remaining households in Mehandipur village, where 80 per cent families belong to the Scheduled Castes. Bank accounts were opened, electricity metres installated, toilet construction completed, and gas connections under the Centre’s Ujjwala scheme were given out to those outside its ambit.

Gajendra, however, claimed officials started pressuring the pradhan to complete all the work in the village in that one week. Given the time constraint, government funds could not be cleared and released for some works, and Priyanka Devi’s family had to spend its own money, and take a loan, to do the needful.

“Personally, this visit has not helped us one bit. Of course we feel happy if someone so big visits. But it didn’t benefit us that he came to our home,” Gajendra said.

“For the village, it helped, since the administration was under pressure to complete work before the CM visited. However, for us, it caused a financial burden. Since government funds couldn’t be released in such a short span, we had to spend Rs 20 lakh on our own – through loans – to complete work like toilet construction and interlocking of tiles.”

Gajendra said he laid down a list of 11 demands on behalf of the village, and submitted it in writing to Adityanath. These included opening a bank branch in the village, a water tank for clean drinking water, and a veterinary hospital, among others. “So far, not even one announcement has been made. The villagers are very disappointed,” he said.

In Mehandipur village, at the village square
In Mehandipur village, at the village square | ThePrint

 

‘Pointless’ visits

Gajendra’s neighbour Tarachand Kumar is even more direct in his criticism of these visits.

“They make headlines but are pointless. The BJP only pays lip service and does nothing for Dalits. PM Modi is busy travelling around the world. We like behenji (BSP supremo Mayawati), who stands up for us. All these gimmicks like such high profile visits will not make us support the BJP in elections,” he said, while another neighbour, Amit Kumar nodded in agreement.

“See, obviously the village benefitted because work was quickly done to please Modi and meet this campaign’s targets. But that is nothing extra, these are schemes and benefits we are anyway entitled to,” Amit said.

 

Different place, same story

The story at Rajneesh Kumar Singh’s house in Lohagarh village of Aligarh district isn’t much different. Suresh Rana, minister of state (independent charge) for cane development and sugar mills in the Uttar Pradesh government, visited Kumar’s house on the night of 30 April for a meal.

But unlike Singh, nobody informed Kumar about the visit. He said he was alone in the house when he was woken up by a knock. He saw the minister, who was addressing a programme in the village, standing outside with his aides and some villagers.

In Lohagarh villag
In Lohagarh village | ThePrint

Rana had arranged for food to be catered by a tent house, which also arranged all the utensils and mineral water. Oddly enough, Rana and his entourage ate their meal at Kumar’s house – which is right next to the community centre where the minister was spending the night – but did not interact with the ‘host’ or ask him to eat along.

“This entire exercise was useless. First of all, if you visit someone’s house, you inform them in advance. I can easily afford to feed ten people. I would have cooked food at home. But they came with their own food, own water and own dishes. I wasn’t asked to eat with them. The minister did not attempt to talk to me in the 30-45 minutes he was here,” Rajneesh said.

“These visits have achieved nothing, haven’t been of advantage to us. This is all just vote-bank politics. But we are not fools to fall for all this.”

Dulari Devi, his mother, is visibly agitated. “I wasn’t in the village that night, but when I heard about it, I was angry. The minister did not even drink a glass of water from our house. What point are they proving? The entire village knows it is all a farce,” she said.

At a house visited by UP Minister Suresh Rana
At a house visited by UP Minister Suresh Rana | ThePrint

A laughing matter

These visits, in fact, have evoked humour in the villages. In Lohagarh, Arun Kumar said: “Who says Rana’s visit wasn’t beneficial? A big advantage was that we had electricity the whole night. Otherwise, there are power cuts every night.”

In Mehandipur village, meanwhile, villagers joke that while they earlier used to get electricity for 16-18 hours every day, oddly enough, they have experienced severe powercuts since the day after the CM’s visit. “We are amused. We know this may not be linked, but a coincidence like this is funny. Since 27 April, we have started facing so many power cuts,” said Amit Kumar.

At a house visited by UP minister Suresh Rana | ThePrint
At a house visited by UP minister Suresh Rana | ThePrint

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