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UP Elections: 'Dalit Capital' Agra Looking for Change; BJP and BSP Losing Influence

Agra, known as the dalit capital of India, elected BJP legislators in all nine seats in 2017, but this time, it may be different.
Up election 2022

Agra: The Taj City of Agra, 21% of whose population is dalit, is now looking for a political change in the upcoming Uttar Pradesh Assembly elections.

Sohan Singh, 42, comes off as a staunch supporter of Mayawati's Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP). Sohan, a Jatav by caste (scheduled caste), runs a small betel nut shop at an intersection near the Fatehabad area. On Tuesday, February 1, he had a heated argument with one of his regular customers whom he asked to vote for the BSP.

The customer, in his argument, said, "Despite cases of atrocities against Dalits in the Taj district, neither Mayawati nor her cadre cared to come and listen to the problems of their people. So, it would be better to see Congress or the Samajwadi Party (SP) as an option in this Assembly elections".

The statement of his customer irked Sohan, and he then started shouting that the BSP did not need people who saw other parties as an option. He became uncontrollable for a couple of minutes and could only be stopped by his wife.

After Taj Mahal, the city is also known as the Dalit capital of Uttar Pradesh, and about one-fifth of its population belongs to the scheduled caste. The Taj district has nine Assembly Constituencies, all of which are held by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Before 2017, the BSP dominated six of the nine constituencies.

Agra's dalit population depends on the large shoe industry, cleaning industry, and leather industry. But the recent cases of alleged custodial death of a Valmiki youth and gangrape of a girl in Hathras have upset dalits in this district.

In Loha Mandi's Valmiki Nagar, which is home to over 20,000 dalit people, Saurabh, a cleaning worker who goes by his initial name, said that the community needed a leader of its own. Standing outside the community's assembly place, just beside the idol of mythological poet Maharishi Valmiki, Saurabh opined that they could not afford to be boycotted by the mainstream parties and the society anymore.

"We need education, we need better facilities, we need respect. Belonging to the Valmiki community or the scheduled caste does not mean that we people are made only for cleaning nullahs or doing the sanitation work," Saurabh said in an angry tone. Referring to the recent death of a sanitation worker in police custody in Agra, he added, "Our brother Arun Valmiki was also a sanitation worker. He had been working with the police stations and was killed by the police."

"Are Valmikis not human, or are our lives does not matter to anyone?" Saurabh asked while speaking to Newsclick.

Standing amid the stench coming out of a big drainage channel passing through the Valmiki Nagar, Saurabh said that back in 2017, people voted for the BJP after getting convinced about the issue of Hindutva, but "no, not now."

Hardly a hundred metres away from this spot is the house of Arun Valmiki, who died of a heart attack, but the family and community members allege that it was a custodial killing. The death of this 31-year-old sanitation worker had triggered a political firestorm in the district.

The family members of Arun Valmiki were visited by the Congress's star campaigner Priyanka Gandhi Vadra and other political party leaders.

Parties like the Congress and the Samajwadi Party (SP) even provided financial compensation to the family. This has made the community look at these parties as an alternative to the BSP.

Sonu Narwal, elder brother of Arun Valmiki, in a brief conversation with the Newsclick, said that at the time of the incident, the BSP chief and prominent leaders of their cadre should have been with the community, which is their core voter. Instead, they were all busy appeasing the Brahmins, he added.

"We are very clear that we would vote for the party which stands for us. The BJP is not one of them, and the time will decide where the community is going," Narwhal said.

A senior BSP cadre from Agra, who once had a chair in the party's district committee, on being asked her party's situation in the district, said, "This time, it is not like the 2017 elections. There is no Modi or Yogi wave, and people are now well aware of the issues. The Bahujan cadres know the kind of discrimination they have faced under this regime, and the entire SC, ST community is irked with the issue of atrocity and injustice done to them."

"To ensure victory, the party (BSP) should contest this election as a party in every constituency and not as candidates," she added.

A day later, on February 2, BSP supremo Mayawati addressed her first ever rally of the 2022 Uttar Pradesh Assembly elections in Agra. In her address, she pitched the condition of law and order as her poll plank.

Notably, the law and order condition of Uttar Pradesh, the state which has been dubbed as Ram Rajya or an ideal state by the saffron brigade, has come under question owing to several incidents, including alleged custodial deaths and police atrocities, among others.

The blue brigade chief said, "We did a splendid job when we were in power. The tasks undertaken by our regime were copied by the parties that followed us in power. Our government should be brought back for the welfare of all castes and communities."

Meanwhile, Sohan Singh continues his fight to convince people like a faithful cadre to vote for the BSP despite being countered and abused by random people for making them believe in Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar's ideology.

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