In UP’s only 2 ST seats, anger over stalled projects, drinking water
Duddhi and Obra, the only two Assembly constituencies reserved for Scheduled Tribes in Uttar Pradesh, seem stuck in a time warp. The two seats in the backward Sonbhadra district go to the polls on Monday – the last day of polling in the state – with the all-too-familiar issues of roti-kapda-makaan, in addition to drinking water, as their basic demands.
The four seats in the Naxal-affected tribal belt (besides Duddhi and Obra, Robertsganj and Ghorawal), which share borders with Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand and Madhya Pradesh, also have unemployment as a major problem. In 2017, the BJP won three out of four seats in this tribal belt, while its alliance partner Apna Dal(S) won one (Duddhi).
While the BJP is betting on the projects it has inaugurated over the past five years – a medical school, housing projects, a drinking water supply project – resentment has been building up as most of these projects have not yet started.
The Samajwadi party, meanwhile, is banking on its established tribal leaders in a region where land is the main currency and which has in the past seen clashes over land rights – in 2015, over the Kanhar irrigation project , and in 2019, when 10 tribals were killed in Umbha.
In the current Assembly, Duddhi is represented by BJP ally Apna Dal (S) MLA Hariram. But this election, the BJP decided to run for the seat alone and chose Ram Dular, a tribal leader.
A miffed Hariram switched sides and is now the BSP candidate, but locals say much of the anger over broken promises is directed at Hariram and therefore the fight could be between Ram Dular and Vijay Singh of SP. In the 2017 election, approximately 8,500 people in this constituency chose the NOTA option.
Vijay Singh is a seven-time MP and former minister who won the seat on both Congress and SP tickets. His supporters assured voters that Gond’s leader would get a Cabinet seat if the party were elected to power. Singh had contested the 2017 election as a BSP candidate.
The Congress presented a female candidate, Basanti Panika.
Campaigning for Ram Dular, Yogi Adityanath had promised to provide clean water to the area. Reason: The high fluoride content of the water here has been blamed for several ailments among people. The government had approved a reverse osmosis water project, but work is still ongoing in some areas.
Sensing opposition to power in nearby Duddhi, five months before the elections, the UP’s BJP government appointed incumbent MP for Obra, Sanjiv Kumar, a Gond leader, cabinet minister Yogi Adityanath. The party hopes the course correction will see the party through this election.
The SP left Obra to its alliance partner, Suheldev Bhartiya Samaj Party, who fielded Rakesh Kumar Gond. Congress, meanwhile, is betting on Ram Raj, a young tribal leader who led the 2019 land protest in Umbha.
After the incident, however, the village was transformed into a model village with pucca houses, land rights to farmers and even running water. As BJP Focuses on U-turn, Opposition Tries to Stay Focused on Incident