January27 , 2022

Why BJP Stronghold Agra Is Having Second Thoughts – by Saba Naqvi



Discontent towards the BJP is now brazenly expressed within the metropolis of the Taj Mahal. In the final state election in 2017, all 9 seats in Agra had been received by the BJP, an extra-ordinary end result on condition that town was hit exhausting by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s shock demonetization transfer introduced on November 8, 2016, simply months earlier than it voted on 11 February 2017. Apart from tourism, a lot of Agra has historically been employed within the unorganized sector, producing leather-based and sneakers – an business that labored on money transactions – so voting for the BJP in 2017 was an act of religion. In the 2019 nationwide election, the 2 Lok Sabha seats of Agra and Fatehpur Sikri had been additionally taken by the BJP.

But the allegiance to the ruling social gathering seems considerably weaker now, notably within the Dalit group. Dheeraj Kumar runs a number of shoe factories within the metropolis that he calls “Dalit ki Rajdhani” (Capital of Dalits). He is from the dominant Jatav sub-caste, that based on the 2011 census comprise 54 per cent of the state’s Dalit inhabitants. (Dalits are estimated to make up 21 % of Uttar Pradesh’s inhabitants). Most of the labour Dheeraj Kumar employs are Jatavs other than just a few Muslims. He says that a number of unregistered factories have shut down since demonetization and his staff are actually paid per pair of sneakers that they manufacture and aren’t employed on a wage. “I am still lucky as we supply to brands like Bata and Paragon and could last out the months after note-bandi…and then the lockdowns and Covid.”

I stroll up a creaky winding staircase to a small shoe manufacturing unit within the Idgah Katghar locality the place 15 staff are making shiny black artificial sneakers (sourcing leather-based grew to become problematic after a extreme uncooked cover scarcity following the closing of many abattoirs that had been deemed unlawful by the federal government of Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath, so synthetic supplies are widespread now). The staff are first evasive about their voting preferences, however with persuasion from the man-in-charge they open up. Yes, a lot of them had voted BJP in 2017 due to the “lehar” (wave), however are returning to Mayawati’s Bahujan Samaj Party as a result of it’s “our party”. (Mayawati is a Jatav Dalit and her voter bloc had been instrumental to her 4 separate phrases as Chief Minister). But in 2014 a small part of Jatavs additionally supported Narendra Modi in his bid to turn out to be Prime Minister of India and continued to take action within the 2017 state polls and 2019 nationwide election. That the BJP nonetheless has some Jatav help was born out on that manufacturing unit flooring the place two stood aside and stated they are going to be voting for the social gathering –¬†every bought Rs 2.5 lakh for constructing homes as a part of a authorities scheme and stated they had been helped by ration provides in the course of the lockdown. Others, nonetheless, butted in to say what’s the level of ration after we cannot discover work simply and dwell with dignity.

Most Jatavs now reveal a definite anti-BJP temper. Even extra important is the disillusionment of the smaller Dalit sub-caste of Valmikis who had turn out to be loyal Hindutva foot troopers within the years since 2014. Gaurav Valmiki is the spokesperson of the Agra Valmiki Mahapanchayat, the principle platform representing the group in Agra. He tells me that previously few elections, ranging from the 2014 and 2019 nationwide polls as additionally the 2017 state election, 90 per cent of his caste voted BJP. What he goes on to say ought to fear the BJP/RSS – and never simply from an electoral perspective. Valmikis stand fifth within the UP record of Scheduled Castes however are sometimes current in giant pockets inside city constituencies the place they work as safai karamcharis and sweepers. Resentful of Jatavs getting many of the reservation quota jobs, in lots of elements of West UP, Valmikis had thrown of their lot with the BJP/RSS mission. Now Gaurav Valmiki says they supported Hindutva as a result of they believed they might get justice and respect. None of that occurred, he says, including, “they wanted to use us against Muslims and we were used but we realise now that Muslims don’t disrespect us but are ready to break bread with us”. He provides that “the upper caste Hindus get us to do their dirty work in their homes and in politics also but have given us no respect or justice.”

Surrounded by indignant supporters within the slim lanes of the Valmiki basti in Moti Katra, Mahadev Road, Agra, Gaurav Valmiki, takes his speech to a crescendo as he goes on to record the varied instances of atrocities towards Valmikis in the course of the reign of Chief Minister Adityanath Yogi. He begins with the Hathras gangrape and homicide in September 2020, which made nationwide headlines, to the loss of life of Arun Valmiki, a sanitation employee accused of theft in Agra who died in October this 12 months in police custody. The police say he died of a coronary heart assault following his arrest however the household declare they had been additionally roughed up and the Valmikis say it was a custodial killing by the state.

The loss of life made nationwide information when Congress chief Priyanka Gandhi traveled to Agra to satisfy Arun Valmiki’s household. But the political profit appears to be going to Akhilesh Yadav’s Samajwadi Party that’s seen by most political observers because the rising pressure within the state. Gaurav says {that a} mahapanchayat of the Valmikis of Agra will happen on December 15, the place the group is more likely to determine that it’ll vote for Akhilesh Yadav and the SP.

The SP has historically not been as robust because the BJP and BSP in Agra. But alliances that the social gathering is forging may give it a brand new momentum. A Jatav shoe factory-owner highlights the rising curiosity in Bhim Army chief Chandrashekhar Azad “Ravan” who lately drew giant crowds in Agra and has a robust following amongst youthful Dalits in search of an choice to a weakening BSP. “If Ravan ties up with the SP, some of us will consider shifting to that front,” he says. There had been unconfirmed experiences of Ravan assembly the SP chief Akhilesh Yadav on November 28 however there is no such thing as a affirmation if a deal will likely be struck. But had been that to occur, the Jatavs may view with new curiosity Akhilesh Yadav, who headed the state between 2012 and 2017. This is linked to the SP already having tied up with Jayant Choudhary’s RLD, which has robust help amongst Jat farmers in rural Agra indignant with the farm legal guidelines that the Centre had launched. The SP has additionally held talks with Arvind Kejriwal’s Aam Aadmi Party or AAP, which, in caste-conscious UP is seen as a “baniya” social gathering that delivers on city guarantees.

This probably helps Akhilesh Yadav as a result of in Agra, there may be nice disenchantment amongst some merchants and shopkeepers who’ve been essentially the most loyal bloc of BJP voters. Most say they may nonetheless find yourself voting BJP, however a piece say they could not vote in any respect as there was no discussion board for redressal in a authorities they helped elect. Hiren Aggarwal, one of many greatest hosiery merchants in Sanjay Place, the market hub of Agra, says he’ll abstain as a result of for him, “BJP is family and family is misbehaving”. He had briefly joined AAP however left and describes himself as a disgruntled BJP/RSS member. Ashok Jain, who runs a big electrical retailer in the identical market, says there may be discuss Hindu-Muslim points arising earlier than the polls, “but 70 per cent of my workers are Muslims and we can’t take any more disruption to our business”. He too claims he’s a lapsed BJP voter.

My final name in Agra is to an influential mahant (priest) of a temple. After the night aarti, he sits down with me and admits there may be a variety of discontent even among the many Brahmins, one of many largest caste teams in Agra. But, he says, if the BJP replaces the incumbents with new candidates, then, by the point voting takes place, they may return to the social gathering. “Everyone is grumbling now”, he says, “but let’s see if there is counter-polarization that will happen once the SP-led front starts to look like it can defeat the BJP…that is when the Hindu consciousness will rise and people will begin to ask if they really want to be ruled by those who also pander to Muslim interests.”

The BJP is reportedly additionally counting on Opposition votes being divided, and on a consolidation of the Hindu vote –¬†therefore, Yogi Adityanath’s many remarks about Akhilesh Yadav’s “Muslim appeasement”. As the solar units on the Taj Mahal, casting mild and shadows, a small hotelier from a buying and selling caste who too was as soon as enthusiastic concerning the BJP says there was an excessive amount of monetary and private loss for him to maintain the religion.

(Saba Naqvi is a journalist and an creator.)

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