The Union Minister had promised statehood for Bundelkhand—within three years—during her election campaign ahead of the 2014 parliamentary elections.
As Jhansi, Hamirpur and Jalaun Lok Sabha seats in Uttar Pradesh are going to polls today, April 29, voters in these constituencies are missing Uma Bharti, the Union Minister of Drinking Water and Sanitation and Bharatiya Janata Party’s national vice president. These constituencies lie in India’s most-backward and parched hilly regions of Bundelkhand spread over Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh.
More than Bharti, it’s her unkept poll promise of “statehood for Bundelkhand within three years” that haunts people. The Union Minister had made this promise ahead of the 2014 parliamentary elections. As five years of the BJP regime comes to end, there is a huge resentment against her—not only in Jhansi which she deserted abruptly, but across the region whose long-cherished dream of statehood is almost in shatters now.
Fifty-nine-year-old Bharti, the sitting Member of Parliament of Jhansi, is not contesting the elections this time. She had announced this in December itself, perhaps due to the resentment of people and pressure of pro-statehood organisations which had launched a massive campaign against her last year. Industrialist Anurag Sharma, the owner of Ayurved-firm Baidyanath, has been fielded by the BJP in Jhansi.
Before Jhansi, she had also represented the Khajuraho Lok Sabha seat four times and went on to become Madhya Pradesh’s chief minister in 2003-04.
“Bharti is the tallest leader the Bundelkhand region has ever had. She wields considerable power at the Centre, and in UP and MP both. Had she taken the matter seriously, we would have got the Bundelkhand state now. But the way she quit the battlefield in 2019 is appalling,” says social activist Sanjay Singh, the founder of Parmarth which has set-up rainwater harvesting projects in 500 villages of the region.
The region has got eight Lok Sabha constituencies: Jhansi, Hamirpur, Banda and Jalaun fall in UP, while Tikamgarh, Sagar, Khajuraho and Damoh are in MP. Banda, Tikamgarh, Damoh and Khajuraho are set to vote on May 6, Sagar will poll on May 12. Over 1.2 crore voters are set to exercise their franchise in the region.
Over 17 big organisations in the region are on agitation or hunger strike for statehood for the region which struggles with developmental backlog, perennial drought and migration due to prolonged administrative neglect.
“The BJP swept Bundelkhand on the statehood promise. Neither has the water crisis improved in the region nor did it get statehood. The height of hypocrisy is that Bharti exits from the fray and their new Jhansi candidate Anurag Sharma also expresses commitment for the cause,” says Bhanu Sahay, president of Bundelkhand Nirman Morcha, which ran a massive signature drive between December to February urging voters to defeat Bharti.
Considering the importance of the issue, all candidates have promised to support the cause of statehood. They have been doing so every election but dump the issue as soon as they come to power, say activists.
“Bundelkhand is a cash cow for MP and UP both, thanks to its thriving mining and stone-crushing industry—legal and illegal both. Hence, no political party is serious about the statehood,” says social activist Tara Patkar whose NGO, Bundeli Samaj, is sitting on a relay hunger strike in Mahoba since last June.
BJP won all 8 seats, now drops four MPs
The BJP had dominated the region since 1990s when the party emerged as a major force in the Hindi heartland following the Ayodhya movement. The BJP won all eight parliamentary seats in 2014 in the region which has a sizeable presence of Schedule Tribes, Schedule Castes and Backward Communities.
The BJP has replaced four of its eight MPs fearing anti-incumbency. This includes Jhansi, Banda (UP), Sagar and Khajuraho (MP).
While the BJP banks on national security, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s popularity and the caste factor, the Congress and the regional Samajwadi Party-Bahujan Samaj Party-Rashtriya Lok Dal (SP-BSP-RLD) alliance rely on anti-incumbency and caste math.
On Uttar Pradesh side: triangular fights and turncoats
Voters of all four seats in UP—Jhansi, Banda, Jalaun and Hamirpur—love to experiment. At the same time, turncoats have made the contests all the more interesting and complex.
For instance, Jhansi had given chances to Congress to represent the seat twice and Samajwadi Party once between 1999 to 2014.
Riding on Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh’s backing and his parliamentarian father’s legacy, Anurag Sharma (BJP) hopes to win his debut contest. But SP’s Shyam Sundar Singh Yadav, who is a BJP turncoat, can give surprising results. Congress has given the Jhansi seat to the ally Jan Adhikar Party of Baulal Kushwaha spoiling the caste mathematics of the BJP and the SP, though its own cadre is unhappy with the decision.
Banda had been the bastion of the SP and the BSP until 2014. The BJP had also replaced its MP Bhairon Prasad Mishra with legislator RK Patel, who had won the Banda seat in 2009 from an SP ticket but joined the BSP when he was denied a ticket in 2014. Samajwadi Party has fielded Shyama Charan Gupta from Banda, another BJP turncoat and the sitting MP from Allahabad. Interestingly, Gupta had unsuccessfully contested Banda in 2014 from a Samajwadi ticket.
Gupta can turn the tide in his favour if he is able to transfer upper caste votes of the BJP and Dalit votes of the BSP in his favour. Congress has fielded dacoit Dadua’s brother and SP turncoat Bal Kumar Patel.
Jalaun (reserved) had also tried and tested the SP, the BSP and the BJP, one by one. The BJP has repeated its MP Bhanu Pratap Verma who will take on BSP’s Ajay Singh Pankaj. Congress has fielded ex-BSP man and two-time MP Brijlal Khabri from this seat.
The SP and the BSP had held the Hamirpur seat between 1999 and 2014. The BJP has re-nominated Pushpendra Singh Chandel who will fight against BSP’s Dilip Kumar Singh and Congress’ Pritam Lodhi, a former BJP leader. Both were in the fray last time as well.
On Madhya Pradesh side: Kamal versus Kamal Nath
Congress has not won Damoh and Sagar since 1989 and 1996 respectively. Khajuraho has been with the BJP since 1989, except in 1999, when the Congress’ Satyavrat Chaturvedi was elected from the constituency. The Tikamgarh constituency, which was carved out following delimitation in 2008, has also been held by the BJP since 2009.
However, the resurgence of Congress since its victory in the Assembly elections and infight in the BJP might dent the saffron bastion this time. In Chief Minister Kamal Nath’s cabinet, three ministers hail from Bundelkhand. His loan waiver and Congress’ poll promise of ₹72,000 annual incentive to poorest of the poor has charged the party. Anticipating a loss, the BJP has replaced two of its four MPs.
Sagar MP Lakshmi Narayan Yadav has been dropped for Rajbahadur Singh, who is the chairman of Sagar Municipal Corporation. Yadav has refused to campaign in support of Singh. Congress has nominated Prabhu Singh Thakur and has a fair chance of winning.
Khajuraho MP Nagendra Singh has been replaced with party’s state general secretary Vishnu Datt Sharma despite internal protests. Sharma who hails from Chambal region is being cited as an “outsider”. The Grand Old Party’s Kavita Singh is pitted against him.
Tikamgarh MP Virendra Khatik has been repeated. He will take on Congress’ Kiran Ahirwar. Damoh MP Prahlad Patel has also been fielded again. If Congress’ Pratap Singh Lodhi defeats Patel, it would be the party’s first victory from the seat after 35 years.