Village-level politics turn gory in UP
As the dust settles over the decentralisation of power to the lowest unit of society, the villages, the stakes involved and the struggle over sharing of spoils is leaving a bloody trail across the heartland.
As many as eight village pradhans have been killed and many others survived murderous assaults in less than a month, making their jobs as village heads dangerous. Most of the cases are attributed to rivalry between candidates while many others have been an offshoot of the reluctance on the part of the feudal lords to relinquish power to Dalit and other downtrodden sections. The common link in the violence targeting pradhans, however, appears to be the ''power`` that the post has been vested with.
The politics is already rearing its head as killings become a routine affair. Claiming that it was a reaction to the ''social awakening among Dalits``, the Bahujan Samaj Party head Ms Mayawati has accused the BJP-supported feudal lords of targeting pradhans affiliated to her party. The BJP denies the charge and blames it on the local politics and the increased financial and political powers.
'NO PATTERN`: The police feels that each case is an isolated incident and without a pattern. Says Mr V Kurien, ADG, crime, ''these are incidents provoked by different reasons.`` But Dr Om Prakash, secretary, Panchayati Raj, feels that incidents do raise a few hackles and the District Magistrates need to be sensitised to the dangers emanating from decentralisation. ''The village-level politics here is very ticklish. It can be enmity, jealousy anything,`` he said, while agreeing that the violence seems to have accentuated with the empowerment of panchayats.
Many others feel the violence was expected in the wake of pradhans being given the key to all that matters in village. ''They will be responsible for tubewells, handpumps, appointment of school teachers, disbursement of scholarships of all departments and pensions. The development process will be their baby,`` says Dr Om Prakash.
Irrespective of the district and castes involved, the killings sound similar. In Fardhan police station in Lakhimpur Kheri district, Shatrughan Lal, pradhan of Pipra Karamchand village was shot dead in the fields early morning. It was said to be the handiwork of his political rival. So was the murderous attack on Kuldeep Singh of Sinhamau in Itaunja in the prime minister`s constituency. The gunshots found their echo in Fursatganj in Rae Bareili where Bholanath Prajapati (30) of Saimsi village was done to death. Three sons of an ex-pradhan have been arrested.
For the volatile UP, the twin killings in Jaunpur district in eastern region were familiar. Two newly-elected pradhans of Dalit community were shot dead after they not just refused to bow down to Thakur landlords` diktat of withdrawing from the elections but also managed to win from the general seat. Subhash Ram, pradhan, and his father Bechan Ram of Kanchwat village in Chandrawat police station were killed on August 21 and Premnath of Rasda village met the same fate the next day.
''The Thakurs cannot digest the fact that their fate will now be decided by Dalits who till now for ages were at their mercy,`` said a senior BSP leader.