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


Discontent in opposition to the BJP is now overtly expressed within the metropolis of the Taj Mahal. Within the final state election in 2017, all 9 seats in Agra had been received by the BJP, an additional-atypical outcome provided that town was hit arduous by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s shock demonetization transfer introduced on November 8, 2016, simply months earlier than it voted on 11 February 2017. Aside 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. Within the 2019 nationwide election, the 2 Lok Sabha seats of Agra and Fatehpur Sikri had been additionally taken by the BJP.

However the allegiance to the ruling social gathering seems considerably weaker now, significantly 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’s from the dominant Jatav sub-caste, that in response to 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). A lot of the labour Dheeraj Kumar employs are Jatavs other than a number of Muslims. He says that a number of unregistered factories have shut down since demonetization and his employees at the moment are paid per pair of sneakers that they manufacture and should not employed on a wage. “I’m nonetheless fortunate as we provide to manufacturers like Bata and Paragon and will final out the months after be aware-bandi…after which 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 employees are making shiny black artificial sneakers (sourcing leather-based grew to become problematic after a extreme uncooked conceal 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 employees are first evasive about their voting preferences, however with persuasion from the person-in-cost they open up. Sure, lots of them had voted BJP in 2017 due to the “lehar” (wave), however are returning to Mayawati’s Bahujan Samaj Get together as a result of it’s “our social gathering”. (Mayawati is a Jatav Dalit and her voter bloc had been instrumental to her 4 separate phrases as Chief Minister). However 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 ground the place two stood aside and stated they are going to be voting for the social gathering – every acquired Rs 2.5 lakh for constructing homes as a part of a authorities scheme and stated they had been helped by ration provides throughout the lockdown. Others, nonetheless, butted in to say what’s the level of ration once we cannot discover work simply and reside with dignity.

Most Jatavs now reveal a definite anti-BJP temper. Much more vital 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 listing 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 a lot of the reservation quota jobs, in lots of elements of West UP, Valmikis had thrown of their lot with the BJP/RSS undertaking. 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 needed to make use of us in opposition to Muslims and we had been used however we realise now that Muslims do not disrespect us however are prepared to interrupt bread with us”. He provides that “the higher caste Hindus get us to do their soiled work of their properties and in politics additionally however have given us no respect or justice.”

Surrounded by offended supporters within the slim lanes of the Valmiki basti in Moti Katra, Mahadev Highway, Agra, Gaurav Valmiki, takes his speech to a crescendo as he goes on to listing the varied instances of atrocities in opposition to Valmikis throughout the reign of Chief Minister Adityanath Yogi. He begins with the Hathras gangrape and homicide in September 2020, which made nationwide headlines, to the demise of Arun Valmiki, a sanitation employee accused of theft in Agra who died in October this yr 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 demise made nationwide information when Congress chief Priyanka Gandhi traveled to Agra to satisfy Arun Valmiki’s household. However the political profit appears to be going to Akhilesh Yadav’s Samajwadi Get together that’s seen by most political observers because the rising power 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’s going to vote for Akhilesh Yadav and the SP.

The SP has historically not been as robust because the BJP and BSP in Agra. However alliances that the social gathering is forging might give it a brand new momentum. A Jatav shoe manufacturing unit-proprietor highlights the rising curiosity in Bhim Military chief Chandrashekhar Azad “Ravan” who just 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, a few of us will contemplate shifting to that entrance,” he says. There have been unconfirmed studies of Ravan assembly the SP chief Akhilesh Yadav on November 28 however there is no such thing as a affirmation if a deal can be struck. However had been that to occur, the Jatavs might view with new curiosity Akhilesh Yadav, who headed the state between 2012 and 2017. That is linked to the SP already having tied up with Jayant Choudhary’s RLD, which has robust help amongst Jat farmers in rural Agra offended with the farm legal guidelines that the Centre had launched. The SP has additionally held talks with Arvind Kejriwal’s Aam Aadmi Get together or AAP, which, in caste-aware 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’ll nonetheless find yourself voting BJP, however a piece say they might 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 household and household 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 speak about Hindu-Muslim points arising earlier than the polls, “however 70 per cent of my employees are Muslims and we will not take any extra disruption to our enterprise”. 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. However, he says, if the BJP replaces the incumbents with new candidates, then, by the time voting takes place, they’ll return to the social gathering. “Everyone seems to be grumbling now”, he says, “however let’s have a look at if there may be counter-polarization that may occur as soon as the SP-led entrance begins to appear to be it may possibly defeat the BJP…that’s when the Hindu consciousness will rise and other people will start to ask in the event that they actually wish to be dominated by those that additionally pander to Muslim pursuits.”

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”. Because the solar units on the Taj Mahal, casting gentle and shadows, a small hotelier from a buying and selling caste who too was as soon as enthusiastic in regards to 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 writer.)

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed inside this text are the private opinions of the writer. The information and opinions showing within the article don’t mirror the views of BoardingFlight and BoardingFlight doesn’t assume any duty or legal responsibility for a similar.

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