By Rajat Rai, IANS,
Pilibhit (Uttar Pradesh) : This Lok Sabha constituency in the foothills of the Himalayas is in the news due to Varun Gandhi. For the voters, though, the important factor is not his purported speeches vilifying Muslims. It is the lack of development in an area that sent his mother Maneka to parliament five times.
Varun Gandhi’s political rivals have another take. After delimitation, this Uttar Pradesh constituency, about 300 km from New Delhi, has a large number of Dalit, Scheduled Caste and Muslim voters, who will not support the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) candidate, they predict.
For the residents, the major issue is lack of infrastructure in this predominantly rural and agricultural part of the country.
“We voted for Maneka Gandhi last time after she promised that Pilibhit will have broad gauge railway tracks. However, she never fulfilled her promise and we are bound to think about a better and more dedicated representative this time. We will vote for a person who promises development and employment,” Nizamuddin Ansari, president of the Pilibhit Vyapar Mandal (Traders’ Association), told IANS.
Rajkumar Lodh, 34, of Udaykaranpur village, has finished school but can find no source of livelihood other than being a rickshaw puller. “I was keen to graduate but with no jobs here, I had to opt for this,” he said. “We need development and jobs.”
Pilibhit is in the heart of a sugarcane growing belt. Though the crop brings a lot of cash, at least to some people, the town still lacks basic amenities like roads.
“Barring this (Haridwar) highway, Station Road and J.P. Road, you cannot move even a few metres on a two-wheeler. In the rainy season, we starve for a customer,” said Anand Lodh, owner of a bicycle shop.
Residents have been asking for a bridge over a rail line that goes through this town. “There is no hospital here with modern facilities for a woman to deliver a baby. Even during an emergency, we have to wait at the level crossing which is closed most of the time,” said Rajendar Singh, an advocate in the district court. “A large number of women have either lost their lives or have given birth to dead babies.”
The area has just one government-owned sugar mill and few other employment avenues.
Daya Bhai is a famous chaat seller on Station Road, but would rather be something else.
“I am a double MA in Sanskrit and geography from Poorvanchal University, but I am carrying on my father’s tradition of selling golgappas because there’s nothing else to do. I want Pilibhit to turn into a better place for my children.”
While Varun Gandhi is in Etah jail facing charges under the National Security Act following communal speeches attributed to him, other candidates have started campaigning. Some are aware of the need to focus on development.
Riyaz Ahmed, the Samajwadi Party (SP) candidate, said: “The people of the area, be they Muslims, Sikhs or from any other community, want development. During her five consecutive tenures, Maneka has done nothing for the district. The voters are now awake.”
Congress candidate B.M. Singh is said to be the man behind the release of Varun’s alleged hate speech CD. But he is not talking about it in his campaign.
“I have always worked for the cause of the farmers, be they Sikhs, Hindus or of any other religion and I am sure they will support me,” said B.M. Singh, a Sikh.
Uttar Pradesh’s ruling Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) is confident of a win here, as a big chunk of the 1.3 million voters is from its vote bank – about 250,000 from the Scheduled Castes (SC).
Plus, there are many voters from Other Backward Classes (OBC) such as Lodh (about 225,000) and Kurmi (150,000-odd). SC and OBC voters total over 30 percent of the electorate.
Of course, after the tie-up between the SP and BJP rebel Kalyan Singh (who is from the OBC), there is a possibility that OBC voters will support the SP candidate. About 150,000 Muslim voters are also expected to vote for either the SP or the BSP.
Given this, BSP candidate Budhsen Verma said: “The fight here is between the BSP and the SP. Varun and B.M. Singh stand nowhere.”
There are about 150,000 Brahmin voters too, and nobody seems sure who they will vote for, or whether they will vote as a group.
The only group that appeared to be supporting Varun Gandhi were the 90,000-odd Sikhs who settled here after partition and form the most prosperous section of the populace.
“We are traditionally the voters of Maneka (born into a Sikh family) and will now vote for his son Varun,” said Gurdeep Singh of Pilibhit Punjabi Welfare Society. “We are witness to Varun’s speeches here and challenge the claims made on TV that he has said anything against any community, be it Sikhs or Muslims.”
(Rajat Rai can be contacted at [email protected])