ETAWAH: Still on 302-km long Lucknow-Agra Expressway, as the skyline starts getting dotted with smoke spitting chimneys of ‘eent bhattees’ (brick kilns), it becomes apparent that Etawah is
drawing closer. The manufacturing hub of bricks, Etawah draws its name from Eent (brick). This nerve centre of Yadav chieftain Mulayam Singh Yadav’s Samajwadi movement presents some contradictions of life beguiling blended with astonishing ease.
On one hand, Etawah has been known to be the land of “Bihad’ (the dense network of ravines along the Chambal) and home to some of the most dreaded dacoit gangs of yore, on the other, it enjoys an illustrious lineage of luminous instrumental music gharana -- Sitar gharana – also known as Etawah Gharana or Imdad Khani Gharana after noted Sitar
exponent Imdad Khan.
Moreover, Etawah has one more claim to fame by being the confluence of – Yamuna, one of the most polluted rivers in the country and Chambal, the cleanest river of the country. Etawah has played political hotbed for Yadavs establishing their unchallenged dominance after the rise of SP patriarch Mulayam Singh Yadav. He, under the tutelage of the likes of Ram Manohar Lohia, was first elected MLA in 1967 from Jaswant Nagar assembly constituency which is now in Mainpuri Lok Sabha segment post-delimitation.
Clean, wide roads, a kicking and alive Etawah is bustling with activity at 10 am. Each tea stall on the outskirts and deep into villages is an adda witnessing spirited debates over prospects of SP-BSP alliance and also the BJP which had a blooming lotus under sweeping Modi wave in 2014.
Etawah is poised for a direct fight is between BJP’s Ram Shankar Katheria, sitting Agra MP and Kamlesh Katheria, son of former SP MP Prem Shankar Katheria, both jatavs by caste. Congress has fielded BJP turncoat and sitting Etawah MP Ashok Dohre. A reserved seat with Dalits making one fourth of the total population, Etawah is ready to be the case study of
While alliance is banking on Dalit-Yadav-Muslim votes, upper castes which also contribute an almost equal chunk to population are giving a fair chance to BJP. However, the well-off Yadavs, who rule roost here, are just 10.6 % of the population. As one forays deep into the constituency, a wide rural-urban divide also comes out in open.
While rural Etawah is batting for the ‘mahagthbandhan’, the urban voters are advocating a second term for Narendra Modi for his initiatives at national level, national security and the benefit of his welfare schemes being received on ground. “There has been no development since Akhilesh Bhaiyya lost in 2017. Even Modiji has not given the jobs promised in 2014 and stray animals are a big problem,” comes out Akhtar Raza, 50, a small trader selling locks and owns a small repairing centre at Besrehar rural locality on outskirts.
He is immediately joined son Rizwan, 28, a polytechnic diploma holder who runs father’s repair workshop. More polished Rizwan brings in the issues of demonetisation, power crisis, and
unfulfilled promise of Rs 15 lakh in accounts into the discourse. When asked about Modi teaching a lesson to Pakistan pat comes the reply from Rizwan: “Whatever he (Modi) did was for votes only. He has no concern for issues.”
Akhtar is backed by Ram Bishun, 52, a farmer. A similar opinion is echoed by Munni Lal Yadav, 70, Kuldeep Singh Yadav, 45, both farmers and Nitin Yadav, 30, in Sadar area of the constituency. “Here only alliance will win,” says Munni Lal who is joined by Nitin who works with some IT firm in Gurugram. “We will vote for Bhaiyya (Akhilesh). He has done a lot for us,” he observes.
Whether alliance has been received well by both Yadavs and Dalits putting decades-long animosity behind? “Of course. More so after Behenji (BSP chief Mayawati) and ‘Netaji’ (Mulayam) shared stage in Mainpuri. Now no enmity, no confusion is there,” says Kuldeep Singh Yadav, 45, who preferred farming after completing education till graduation
from Agra University.
The same sentiment was replicated by Satish Ram, 40, an agri labourer, in Ajeet Nagar Dalit Colony. “Whatever is the ‘farman’ (order) of Behenji will be followed here in letter and spirit,” says Satish on behalf of his family and other villagers giving a sense of alliance spirit that has percolated down the ranks and files of both allies.
However, as one reaches out to the Dalits of Aminabad village which had witnessed an infamous massacre of six-seven members of a Dalit family way back in 2011 under Mayawati’s fourth regime as CM, the difference of opinion surfaces. “They (Yadavs) will vote for SP candidate Kamlesh Katheria but we will vote for Kamal (lotus ) to make Modi PM again. Why should we waste our vote for mahagathbandhan when it is not going to form government at the Centre,” says Ram Kumar, 29, a class 10th pass out.
“Earlier, also alliance governments were formed but they are not strong and fail to sustain more than 1 or 1.5 years,” says Mool Chand, 42, a labourer, a Jatav by caste. Similar is the sentiment in urban Etawah. “Modi has shown courage to teach Pakistan a lesson. Who else in recent past has done it,” says Manoj Pandey, 38, an environmentalist who promotes swachhta on
lines of Modi Mission. “Has anybody else espoused this out-of-the-box idea to keep the country clean,” Pandey asks with conviction in his voice.
“BJP has an edge here for the simple reason that Jaswantnagar and Saifai, the Yadav pocket boroughs of Etwaha, have gone to Mainpuri after delimitation in 2011. This factor has curtailed the chances of alliance at least in city areas,” says Dr Rajeev Chauhan, an Etawah based wildlife expert.
“The impact was seen in 2014 when SP had won all it citadels despite sweeping Modi wave but it had failed to hold Etawah fort,” adds Dr Chauhan. Samajwadi Party has been winning in Etawah since 1996 till 2009 barring 1998 when BJP had bagged the seat. Satnosh Gupta, 33, a trader in city, feels that BJP dispensation has bought relief by reining in allegedly arrogant
“Lawlessness was high in Etawah. Extortion, abduction, murder were order of the day. They used to operate at will without fear under the patronage of Samajwadi Yadavs,” he rues adding that all that has ended now.
However, stands out Sudha Kumari Yadav, 30, a homemaker in Ekdil tehsil. She adds a third dimension to the whole dynamics of Etawah politics. “We will vote for the one who will seem to be winning after four-five hours of voting,” says a giggling but confident Sudha while separating the husk from wheat sitting under the blazing sun in her verandah. She feels that her vote should not go waste on a losing candidate.
“The dalit votes don’t decide the fate in this reserved seat. The upper castes and Muslims would be the deciding factors. While Upper castes, dominating demographic dynamics of Etawah which includes Auraiyya also, tend to back the BJP, Muslims are expected to go with mahagathbandhan,” says a senior political analyst Subhash Tripathi.