Badaun: Better roads and a medical college in the abysmally low-literacy and low-employment Badaun constituency in Uttar Pradesh — these are the two big achievements that the two-term Lok Sabha MP Dharmendra Yadav boasted of in an interview to ThePrint’s My543 initiative.
While the roads in Badaun are indeed visibly better and less pot-holed than the adjacent areas, the constituency still lacks the job opportunities and mobility that highways are traditionally understood to bring. As the constituency gets ready to vote on 23 April, voters here say jobs are the biggest issue — something that the BJP rallies have given a miss.
Most young people here have to go out for work. There isn’t a single factory or industry in the region as most people are either self-employed in small businesses, or unemployed.
The burning issue, however, only plays into the hands of Yadav, the Samajwadi Party MP who is the nephew of party stalwart Mulayam Singh Yadav.
“Unemployment is not a problem only of Badaun, it is a problem for the entire country,” Yadav told ThePrint. “In 2014, when Prime Minister Narendra Modi came to power, he promised to give employment to the youth. I thought some jobs will come for the youth of Badaun as well, but that did not happen.”
This western Uttar Pradesh town, which is a Muslim-Yadav stronghold, is a Samajwadi Party pocket borough. With the SP now allying with the BSP, the expected Dalit vote should make it an even more potent combination for Yadav. The roads in the constituency are teeming with Mayawati and Akhilesh Yadav gatbandhan posters.
In this year’s election campaign Badaun has witnessed public meetings by Rahul Gandhi, Jyotiradiya Scindia and UP Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath so far.
For most, however, Yadav still has the upper hand. “Dharmendra Yadav will win again,” said Shahnawaz, a second-time voter who runs a mobile phone showroom. “He has done a lot for us. Earlier only Yadavs and Muslims supported him but after the SP, BSP alliance, the scheduled caste vote has also turned in his favour.”
Hospital up and running, college still in the works
The plush new, sprawling government medical college and hospital that Yadav helped build in the constituency stands in the middle of open farmland outside Badaun town, as a symbol of aspiration in a predominantly backward and rural constituency. Since it opened in 2017, an average of 3,000 patients visit the hospital every day, say its managers.
“Healthcare facilities have improved a lot after this hospital. Earlier we had to go to Bareilly for everything, now most of the treatment happens here itself,” said Vipin Kumar whose daughter is suffering from typhoid.
While the hospital has started functioning, the medical college is yet to start as it is awaiting some clearances. Voters here believe that the college is likely to bring career opportunities for the youth.
There are other new colleges and schools that have sprung up in recent years but unemployment remains one of the biggest problems of Badaun.
Some unlikely support from the national capital
Yadav has some unusual support for his campaigning — a group of teachers and students from Delhi University and Jawaharlal Nehru University. The SP MP secured their unflinching support after backing their movement demanding the roll-back of the controversial roster system for reservation in teachers hiring across institutes.
“We are supporting Dharmendra Yadav because he was one of the very few leaders who supported our movement against the roster system and eventually we won the fight. The government had to roll back its order,” said Rattan Lal, a Delhi University teacher who campaigned for Yadav.
“Another reason for supporting him is that he is also a well-educated leader and we need more people like him in the parliament.”
Low literacy and anti-incumbency
One of the problems afflicting Badaun is it has among the lowest literacy in Uttar Pradesh. According to the 2011 census, Badaun’s literacy rate is 51 per cent.
“A big reason for the low literacy rate in the area is people don’t want to send their girls to schools,” said Shujat Alam who works at a primary school. “There is a section among the Muslim community that did not send its girls to schools till five years ago. Most of the women in Muslim households here have barely completed school education,”
There are many people here who are demanding change, even though the caste arithmetic favours the incumbent.
“Goondaism increased during his tenure, it was only after Yogi Adityanath became the CM things have changed,” said Sachin Jain, a chemist. “He has the support of Yadavs and Muslims and looks like he might win this time again but the fight will be tough.”
Others say that Yadav’s work is mostly visible only in urban areas. “You will see work only in the town, go to villages and you will realise that nothing has been done. Things should definitely change in the area,” said Raj Kumar a shop owner.