Trinamul versus Ajit’s son and what it means for Cong

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  1. Ray

    Ray The Chairman Defence Professionals Moderator

    Apr 17, 2009
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    Mamata factor in Mathura

    - Trinamul versus Ajit’s son and what it means for Cong

    Mathura, Feb. 23: Mamata Banerjee could well trace her ancestry to Uttar Pradesh for most Bengali Brahmin clans — the Chatterjees, Mukherjees, Banerjees, Gangulys — claim to originally hail from Kannauj in the heart of the Indo-Gangetic plains.

    Mahendra Sharma and his cohorts are unaware of this bit of history (or myth). Yet, their hopes of a Brahmin fightback against the dominant Jats and the assertive Jatavs (Dalits) of this region rest on Mamata’s man in Mathura: Shyam Sundar Sharma.

    Sharma, or “Panditji” as he is known, is taking on not just any Jat but the scion of the most prominent Jat family in the history of independent India: none other than Jayant Choudhury — Ajit Singh’s son, Charan Singh’s grandson, the current Rashtriya Lok Dal MP of Mathura and, for his kinsmen, a chief minister hopeful to boot.

    The battle between young Jayant and veteran “Panditji” in the rural constituency of Mant in Mathura district, Mahendra adds, is having a ripple effect on many adjoining seats as well, casting a shadow on the RLD-Congress alliance, which stands its best chance of picking up seats in the Jat-dominated pockets of western Uttar Pradesh.

    Sharma’s is not an entirely empty boast. “Pandit” Shyam Sundar is a six-time MLA from Mant, winning every election since 1989 regardless of his party colours and serving as minister under a variety of chief ministers ranging from Kalyan Singh to Mayawati. He inherited the seat from his father Lokmani Sharma, a Congressman and freedom fighter.

    Shyam Sundar too started out with the parent Congress party, winning in 1989, 1991 and 1993 on Congress tickets and then fighting on a Congress (Tiwari) ticket in 1996 and from the Loktantrik Congress in 2002 and 2007.

    This time he has chosen the Trinamul Congress.

    At his palatial residence-cum-office in Mathura town, a bunch of his loyalists, led by Mahendra, cannot stop bragging about their boss. “Every party wanted him this time — we got calls from Congress leaders in Delhi, from the NCP, from the JD(U), from the BJP….”

    But Shyam Sundar opted for the Trinamul banner because “Mamata Banerjee stands for the poor and downtrodden, just like Panditji”.

    They are looking forward to Mamata’s rally in Mant, scheduled for Saturday — the polls take place on February 28 — and hope that Mamata’s giant-killing record in Bengal will somehow rub off on their own efforts in that direction.

    But while they are angry with Jayant for choosing to fight against the “biggest and most popular Brahmin leader in this region”, their real ire, we discover, is directed at Mayawati for her “audacity” in taking on the Brahmins.

    “Do you know what she has been saying — ‘Pehele lutiya, phir khatiya aur ab bitiya (first we made the Brahmins give us water, then we got to sit on their cots, now we will take their daughters)’,” one of them says, bitterly ruing the fact that Brahmins had voted for the BSP five years ago and now stood to lose their very “astitva (existence)” if the BSP were to return to power.

    If it were not for the alliance with the RLD, the Congress would have got a chunk of the disgruntled Brahmin vote this time, they insist. “But now Brahmins across Mathura district (which has five seats) and even beyond have turned against the RLD because Jayant is challenging our Panditji.”

    Even the Mathura seat, which Pradeep Mathur of the Congress has been winning for the past three elections, is not “safe” for the Congress any more, they believe.

    The views of the dyed-in-the-wool Brahmins of Mathura, though, are only one side of the story. For the Jats and Thakurs and non-Jatav lower castes, many of whom voted BSP the last time round and have now turned vehemently against the ruling party, the RLD-Congress combine is a viable alternative.

    In Chaumuha village, which falls under the Chhata constituency in rural Mathura, Giriraj Singh — who proudly asserts his Thakur antecedents in an area dominated by “Choudhurys” — is confident that the RLD-Congress alliance will sweep this belt.

    Jayant, he concedes, faces a “formidable opponent” in Shyam Sundar “who has now joined that railway minister’s party” but in the end, Jat pride will ensure that their “chhora (lad)” wins.

    “No one wants the return of the BSP, and in these parts it is the (Rashtriya) Lok Dal which is the dominant party, not the SP or the BJP. So except for the Jatavs, everyone will vote for them,” he says, making it clear that the Congress may pick up seats not because of Rahul Gandhi but thanks to its alliance with the RLD.

    “Mayawati does not stand a chance. This time only three men are in the running for chief minister — Akhilesh Yadav, Jayant Choudhury and… no, actually only two, that Gandhi fellow is for PM, isn’t he?” Giriraj says, pithily summing up why the Congress — sans a regional leader — is seen as fighting in advance for the 2014 Lok Sabha elections rather than the ongoing Assembly polls.

    That becomes even more apparent at a joint rally addressed by Ajit Singh and Rahul Gandhi at the B.N. Poddar College grounds in Mathura town on Wednesday evening.

    Rahul clearly has more star appeal, and even cynical local journalists who tell us that the Congress’s sitting MLA, Pradeep Mathur, may lose this time go into a frenzy the minute Rahul arrives — standing atop moulded plastic chairs to catch a glimpse of him and record the moment on their mobile phone cameras.

    But Rahul’s speech has nothing new to say, no Mathura-specific angle to offer. He talks of the misgovernance of the last 22 years, and tom-toms central schemes such as the rural job guarantee scheme, loan waivers and the Bundelkhand package, batting more for the UPA government at the Centre than the Congress party in the state.

    Ajit, who gets top billing at the rally and gets to speak after Rahul, seems much more aware of ground realities.

    “This election is not just about changing governments but ushering in a good, clean, pro-people government that the RLD-Congress combine will provide.… This election is not about choosing an MLA but changing the government in Lucknow. So even if you are unhappy with your MLA, give your vote in the name of Rahul Gandhi,” he says, reinforcing the perception that the Congress — which is only contesting the Mathura seat while the RLD is contesting the rest in the district — is on a tough wicket because of local factors that Rahul does not know or refuses to address.

    Of the 50 seats allotted to the RLD in the alliance, 42 fall in the western belt of the state. The Congress’s hopes of doing well in these polls depend a great deal on the degree to which the RLD mops up the palpable anti-incumbency and to what extent the RLD’s loyal support base transfers its votes to the Congress.

    Amid these imponderables, Mamata is doing her bit — as only she can — to rile the Congress not just in Bengal and Delhi but even in this corner of Uttar Pradesh.

    Mamata factor in Mathura

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