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Debai: Uttar Pradesh's Lodh heartland
Harmeet Shah Singh in Debai (Uttar Pradesh) | April 10, 2007 09:44 IST
The backward Lodh community finds a powerful political voice in Debai, which has sent its representative to the Uttar Pradesh Assembly unfailingly over most of the past 50 years.
It stands up to be counted as and when elections arrive.
In Debai, scores of Lodhs rush out towards a stretch of open ground to have a glimpse of their leader Kalyan Singh, whose son Rajveer Singh, fondly called Raju Bhaiya, seeks re-election from the borough.
Debai's election record shows the constituency has chosen a Lodh in almost every vote since 1957, at times disregarding what party the candidate belonged to.
Lodhs make up a large population of Debai's 200,000 plus voters, which include Brahmins, Vaishnavis, Muslims and backward castes and communities.
More than a dozen candidates, half of them independents, are in the fray from this constituency that is scheduled to elect its legislator in the second phase of the voting due on April 13.
In an apparent bid to shore up support of both Brahmins and Vaishnavis as well as disadvantaged groups, Bahujan Samaj Party chief Mayawati has fielded a Brahmin, Bhagwan Sharma, a 32-year-old man, in Debai.
On his part, Chief Minister Mulayam Singh, whose Samajwadi Party has a strong support base among Muslims, has given ticket to a Muslim in the constituency, now regarded as a saffron-stronghold.
The Bharatiya Janata Party is upbeat about its prospects, given the return of its stalwart Kalyan Singh to its fold after he had floated his own party.
Swayamsevaks are making every effort to prevent the BSP from making inroads into saffron votes by fielding a Brahmin as incumbent Rajvir Singh seeks to retain his traditional Lodh support.
But the Congress, which could win the seat for only three times since 1952, has put up a Lodh candidate in a bid to cut into the BJP's vote-block in the Lodh stronghold.
The BJP believes that Kalyan Singh's caste and community influence will not only be beneficial to seats like Debai in and around western UP, its impact on the party machinery will cut across all regions of the state, where parties representing interests of backward sections are seen as key to forming the government.
Almost all political parties have a common campaign strategy in Debai -- they hold out to the Dalits the promise of access to state patronage to make them seek political space.
"In Debai, there is a strange phenomenon. People keep criticising their representative all along for his or her handling of the constituency. But when it comes to voting, they choose those who they believe will cater to the interests of their caste," said Laxmi Narayan, a 76-year-old Brahmin.
Debai's poor power supply, with cuts lasting sometimes for eight to 10 hours together, broken roads and bad infrastructure are not as great an issue as caste in this Assembly borough, he said.