UP CM's elaborate charade to placate the angry farmers
Ajay Singh | July 18, 2011
Lucknow is less than 500 km but a world apart from the twin villages of Bhatta-Parsaul in Greater Noida. Especially so for the embattled villagers who boarded an air-conditioned luxury bus courtesy of the state administration less than a month after they braved bullets and lathis of the police in a isplay of ruthless state repression.
It was as if the crackdown on May 7 against those who protested land acquisition had never happened when they stopped along the way at Kannauj, the famed fragrance capital known for its heady traditional perfumes, for a hearty five-star meal. The surreal picture seemed complete when the villagers from Bhatta-Parsaul checked into the VVIP state guest house in Lucknow, denied even to the central ministers, late in the night of June 1 along with the other farmers gathered there from across the state for the kisan mahapanchayat the next day. The sumptuous breakfast the next morning was followed by the interaction with chief minister Mayawati at her palatial bungalow.
She spoke for more than half hour and highlighted her grandiose plans for the welfare of the farming community, even as she cautioned the farmers against the dark conspiracies of her opponents who were out to disrupt peace and prosperity in the state. Everybody listened with rapt attention. And then it was time for their journey back home.
Everything about the trip was in sharp contrast to the villagers’ frequent travels to the Dasna jail in Ghaziabad where their relatives have been incarcerated for over a month. Most of them had been beaten up and jailed on the charge of inciting violence and disturbing peace while protesting against land acquisition.
Lokesh Jatav, among the villagers from Bhatta-Parsaul who attended the kisan mahapanchayat, seems suitably mesmerised by the hospitality of the state. “She treated us very well and assured us of all help, including financial assistance,” he says about the “benign Behenji”. Probe further and he says those who opposed acquisition of their lands actually deserved the treatment meted out to them. “You know Tewatia is a hardened criminal,” he says, referring to Manvir Singh, the leader of the agitation that left four dead, including two policemen, and a village brutalised.
Jatav, who belongs to Mayawati’s caste and therefore among the beneficiaries of her regime, however does not represent the view of the majority in his village. If the villagers had hoped that their trip to Lucknow would bring an end to the agony of visiting their jailed relatives, it was not to be. Most of the able-bodied men from the village remain battered prisoners in the district jail.
When the policemen unleashed violence on the hapless villagers in Bhatta-Parsaul, they selectively avoided the pockets inhabited by the jatavs and other scheduled castes. The underlying message of the state action was that those refusing to fall in line with the government would bear the brunt of the state’s fury. There is a palpable feeling of elation in these pockets where the inhabitants do not conceal their glee, albeit privately, on the happenings that hogged headlines and prompted Rahul Gandhi to rush to the village. “It served them (upper castes and the jats) right,” remains the general refrain among the jatavs who were silent abettors to the state excesses.
But the dominant narrative is entirely different. For the jats who control a large chunk of agricultural land, the agitation led by Tewatia exposed the corruption in the Mayawati regime and to them Tewatia is a saviour. They harbour an increasing anger and distaste against the jatavs who have emerged a new powerful social group quite similar to the yadavs in the 1990s and the rajputs in the 1980s in Uttar Pradesh. Gone are the days when the rajputs and the yadavs flexed their muscles to browbeat the lower and weaker social groups.
Photo Ajay Singh
Police action victim Rajpal's widow with her father
The state, however, did not stop its engagement with the villagers of Bhatta-Parsaul entirely after hosting the Lucknow joyride. Its compensation scheme has had people from across the caste divide clamouring to claim the money on offer for those who died or were injured in clashes with the police. Rajpal Singh’s widow got Rs five lakh. She was also part of the delegation that met Mayawati and she returned a bitter woman. More than 500 villagers have come forward to claim compensation ranging from Rs 10,000 to Rs 50,000. The villagers say the government has distributed Rs 48 lakh as compensation so far. And many more are in queue waiting their turn. All this indicates that the villagers have learnt to bear the stick and bite the bait without resisting the state for the time being.
If Bhatta-Parsaul is seen as a microcosm of Uttar Pradesh politics, there is no denying the fact that a new political consciousness is emerging in the state. Bhatta-Parsaul is not an isolated case. There are many villages adjacent to Bhatta-Parsaul where a similar situation prevails. In certain villagers of Greater Noida, the state assumed the role of a real-estate agent to acquire land at cheap rates only to distribute it among the builders. Though the Allahabad high court held these acquisitions untenable and annulled them, the court order meant nothing to the state government which is going ahead with its authority to browbeat farmers into submission. Of course, once again the villagers are made secret offers of compensation by the builders should they fall in line. Such stories abound all along the Yamuna Expressway and the Ganga Expressway planned by the Mayawati government.
That this worst form of cronyism promoted by the state has evoked revulsion among people in Aligarh, Agra, Moradabad, Allahabad and Varanasi is not a secret. But Mayawati seems unperturbed as her cold political calculation assures her of an intact support base of the jatavs in west UP and the chamars in east UP. “Villagers of Bhatta-Parsaul are not the BSP voters,” a senior bureaucrat working closely with the government remarked casually. His attitude is just as insensitive as that displayed when a minor Muslim girl was allegedly raped and murdered by policemen inside the Nighasan police station recently. The manner in which the post-mortem report was doctored reflects the depths of criminalisation that the administration has plumbed.
Significantly, all this is happening under the chief minister who herself faced the wrath of the state power 16 years ago. On June 2, 1995, Mayawati was attacked in the Meerabai Marg state guest house by the goons of Mulayam Singh Yadav who had emerged as a chief minister patronising criminals in the state. This happened just a day after Mayawati had announced withdrawal of the BSP’s support to the coalition government headed by Yadav. Her MLAs were roughed up and abducted and there were attempts to attack her personally. She remained confined to the VVIP suite the whole day and night and came out only when the Mulayam Singh Yadav government was sacked by the then governor Motilal Vora. Mayawati was anointed as a new chief minister with the support of the BJP – a party which had declared her a threat to national security in 1991 during the Kalyan Singh regime. Since then, Mayawati has occupied the post of UP chief minister thrice. In 2007 elections, she effectively transformed her image from that of a dalit leader to an inclusive political personality (leader of sarvajan samaj).
Four years in power have however not only isolated Mayawati from the masses but also induced an incredibly high dose of confidence which normally comes from bureaucratic disinformation. She seems blissfully ignorant of the fact that even at the peak of dalit consolidation, the BSP could not go beyond 69 seats. In 2002 elections, the BSP expanded its base primarily because of the decimation of the BJP and Mayawati’s projection as an inclusive leader. But at the fag end of her current term, she is justifiably accused of presiding over a regime which is not only overly insensitive but also thoroughly compromised. In such circumstances, she genuinely runs the risk of getting isolated with her caste support base – a phenomenon which has caused the decimation of Lalu Yadav in Bihar and Mulayam Singh Yadav in UP in the recent past.
This piece first appeared in the July 1-15 issue (Vol. 2, issue 11) of the Governance Now magazine.
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