Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) founder Kanshi Ram had once described Uttar Pradesh (UP) as a laboratory where he could conduct experiments to change the upper-caste dominated political narrative. Ram’s protégé and former chief minister Mayawati [who leads the BSP today], has since been at the centre of Dalit politics in the state. Among her favourite constituencies is the reserved seat of Agra, from where she, for many years, was known to kick-start her political campaigns.
The BSP supremo continues to be popular in parts of Agra, which goes to polls on April 18—especially among the Jatavs, who, with their 2.24 crore population, form the largest Dalit sub-group in UP. They comprise about 10 percent of total voters in Agra. Varsha, a Jatav from Rakabganj in Agra Cantonment assembly constituency, says that only Mayawati best represents her community, and that she would “feel safer if Mayawati comes to power again”.
The 2014 general elections, however, saw BJP win in all 17 constituencies reserved for the Scheduled Caste (SC) in Uttar Pradesh, including Agra. This time around, to counter BJP candidate SP Singh Baghel, the Congress has fielded Indian Revenue Service (IRS) officer Preeta Harit [who resigned as principal commissioner, Income Tax], who seems to be making Dalit advocacy and women’s rights her priority.
Female voters in Agra agree that they will vote for leaders bringing gender equality and safety to the forefront. Archana Silas, a teacher in St Anthony’s School, says, “Even today, many women in Agra are not allowed to come out of the house, even to vote. Even they should exercise their right. Every vote makes a difference,” says Silas, who is from Arjun Nagar in the Agra Cantonment constituency. Apart from safety and security, she feels that the government has not done much to improve cleanliness or road infrastructure in Agra.
That said, voters like Babita Koranga believe that the BJP has done its best to make Agra cleaner and safer. “Voting is a matter of perspective. People who want to find faults with a party they don’t like, will find faults no matter what,” says Koranga, who is from the Fatehabad constituency, and owns a salon in Agra’s Sadar Bazar area. “Personally, I feel that in the past five years, Agra has become much cleaner than it used to be. Garbage management has improved. The credit should go to the ruling party for promoting cleanliness, even at the national level.”’