Robertsganj Lok Sabha Elections – An Experience

Katcha House

The Agenda Lok Sabha campaign run by the All India Peoples Front (AIPF) helped defeat the BJP alliance in the Robertsganj Lok Sabha and Duddhi Assembly by-elections

Robertsganj Lok Sabha constituency of Uttar Pradesh is a special area in itself. It includes four assembly constituencies of Sonbhadra district and Chakia assembly constituency of Chandauli district. On one hand, there are high-tech power generation units, industries like aluminium, cement, chemicals, and carbon plants. On the other hand, you will also see backward farming done with wooden plough and bulls. About one and a half months before the voting on June 1 in this Tribal-Dalit dominated area, the central team of the All India Peoples Front started conducting a public campaign regarding Agenda Lok Sabha Elections 2024. In this campaign, a large section of the public was communicated as to  why it is important to defeat the BJP in this election and to unite on public issues. In this mass campaign which started from Ghorawal assembly constituency, dialogue was conducted with the people of all the ten blocks of Sonbhadra district, Ghorawal, Karma, Robertsganj, Chatra, Nagwan, Kon, Chopan, Duddhi, Myorpur, Babhni and Naugarh, Chakia, Shahabganj of Chandauli district, labourers, and employees of major industrial centres here, bar associations and lawyers, traders and small-medium entrepreneurs. The dialogue showed that the main issues of all sections of the society were inflation, employment, and protection of the constitution. During this campaign, two big worker meetings were also held twice, on 12 May in Robertsganj and on 26 May in Chakia. In which the campaign was reviewed and political situation was discussed. In these meetings, we found that this experiment being conducted in Robertsganj Lok Sabha constituency is completely different from the election boycott done by the Maoists and the experiment of merely raising issues by social civil organisations. There has been large scale public participation in this campaign, an environment has been created to defeat BJP and this campaign has brought this parliamentary constituency to the centre of national discussion.

The campaign exposed BJP’s attempt to create a vote bank through government assistance of providing 5 kg ration and other government facilities. The public was told that this assistance is being provided from your own tax money and it is not a charity but your right. This brought awareness among Dalits, especially farm labourers and they voted against BJP in many places. In a conversation with the youth of Nishad caste in the villages situated on the banks of Son River in Kon block, they told that due to the contract of sand mining in Son and Kanhar rivers being given to mining mafias by the previous several governments, their traditional work of sand mining has ended and they have to migrate due to compulsion. It was discussed in the meeting that if the work of sand mining in the rivers here is given to the cooperative societies of local residents and manual mining is done instead of big machines, then not only will the environment and rivers be protected but employment of lakhs of people will also be arranged.

Similarly, when the workers going out in Siltham village of Chatra block, Patna, were talked to, they told that after Corona, the working hours have been enhanced to 12 in the other states where they usually go to work. Meetings of contract workers were held in the industrial centers of this region, Obra, Anpara, Shakti Nagar, Bijpur and Renukoot. In which the workers said that it is becoming very difficult for them to run their family’s livelihood in this inflation with a daily wage of Rs 400. The workers also said that no matter which party is in power, the condition of the workers does not change, their exploitation continues in the same way, what should the workers do in such a situation? It was said in the dialogue that the workers will have to create their own independent political power to serve their interests. But in the immediate term, it is very important to defeat the BJP, which is putting the workers into modern slavery to serve the interests of corporate houses. While visiting the Kol tribal dominated villages of Ghorawal in the campaign, the people of this caste were seen to be angry over not including their caste in the list of scheduled tribes. The people of the Kol caste itself said that the Central Government returned the proposal to include Kol in the list of tribes but MP Pakori Lal Kol did nothing about it. Whereas due to not getting the status of Kol tribe, they are being deprived of the benefits of Forest Rights Act on ancestral land in the forest and they are not getting proper representation in government jobs as well. In the election results also, the NDA candidate has lost in many Kol dominated villages.

Later, the central team of AIPF focused the entire campaign on Duddhi assembly constituency. Along with the Lok Sabha elections, assembly by-elections were also being held in this assembly. Actually, in this assembly, BJP had made a person accused of raping a minor girl an MLA by giving him a ticket, who was sentenced to 25 years by the court, as a result of which this seat became vacant. Along with the campaigning of the AIPF team in this area, the campaign run by the Yuva Manch team of young girls on the issues of employment, education and health attracted the attention of the people.

This assembly constituency is dominated by tribals and comes in a very backward area. About 90 percent of the boys from every village here are forced to go to other states to work. The situation is such that many tribal girls are working in readymade garments factories in Bangalore. Employment is a major issue here and the government does not seem to have any interest in solving it. It was discussed in the dialogue that if canals are constructed from Kanhar Dam for irrigation of farmers in Duddhi area, and water is stored by constructing series of check dams on rainy drains, then farming here will improve and livelihood of people will be arranged. The money deposited in banks from this area should be given to the youth here in the form of interest-free loans so that they can start small businesses. There should not be only rhetoric of making Lakhpati Didi, but if interest-free loans up to Rs 5 lakh are given to women self-help groups, then employment can be arranged by setting up small cottage industries like donapatta, diya silayi, incense sticks, candles, soap in villages. If factories for making bricks are set up from fly ash coming out on a large scale from thermal power projects in this area, then employment can be created for the youth. Similarly, if the vacant forest lands are given to cooperative societies of local residents for planting fruit trees and if cooperation is encouraged in farming here, then livelihood will be arranged and migration will also stop. During the campaign, it was seen that MNREGA has also come to a complete standstill. The wages which are much lower than the market rate, only Rs. 238 per day, and that too pending for a long time, and technical difficulties like online attendance have reduced the interest of workers towards this scheme. If this is also run in a better way and adequate work and respectable wages are guaranteed, then people will develop interest in it. The question of giving a government job to one member of every family, making employment a fundamental right, ending the contract system and imposing inheritance and property tax on the rich to raise resources for employment was raised in the villages, which also attracted the youth. In this campaign, hundreds of young boys and girls joined the group of Yuva Manch.

During the campaign, the team of Yuva Manch saw that despite the desire to study, many tribal girls are having to leave their education midway. In fact, there are only three government degree colleges in Sonbhadra district with a population of 25 lakh. One of which is a girls’ degree college in Robertsganj. The Government Degree College in Pokhra of Babhani has been ready for the last 5 years but education has not been started in it. Studying in private schools is very expensive and most of the private colleges do not even have teachers. In such a situation, the question of at least one Government Degree College in the district and two in Myorpur for residential and free education for tribal girls emerged as a major issue. The condition of primary and secondary education in this area is also bad, most of the schools do not have teachers and they are running only with the help of Shiksha Mitras. The same is the condition of the health services. The Community Health Centres built in the blocks are referral centres. The Community Health Centres do not have specialist doctors as per the set standards, especially there is a severe shortage of doctors like gynaecologists. The people of Yuva Manch raised the issue of setting up a Primary Health Centre on a cluster of two-three villages in this plateau-hilly area, appointment of specialist doctors as per the posts in the CHC and planning for all kinds of tests and medicines.

There is also a huge crisis of pure drinking water here, even today in the tribal areas people are forced to drink water from Chuad, raw wells, rain drains and dams. There are many villages like Raspahari, Kusmha, Ashram, Dadiyara where people have become disabled due to diseases like fluorosis due to drinking water and every year there are deaths due to poisonous water. It is worth mentioning that on our initiative, a team of National Human Rights Commission had visited the area on the issue of deaths and disability due to poisonous water. After which, the RO plants and filter plants installed with hand pumps to prevent fluorosis are mostly lying defunct today. The Forest Rights Act made to solve the issue of rights over water, forest and land related to the lives of tribals was also failed here. Even after two orders of the High Court, it was not resolved and tribals and forest-dwellers were not given rights over ancestral land.

During the dialogue, Kanhar displaced people were also talked to and they felt cheated. After the construction of the main dam, all the displaced villages were submerged, despite this hundreds of people have still not been given the displacement package and those whose names were missing from the list have also not been added. The Kanhar displaced colony of Amwar lacks minimum civic amenities like education, health, roads, pure drinking water. The condition is so bad that the payment of Rs 1050 crore required for the construction of canals, completion of the remaining work of the dam and payment of displacement package is pending from the Prime Minister Agricultural Irrigation Scheme for two years. In such a situation, the displaced people were worried about their future and despite the Irrigation and Jal Shakti Minister of the Uttar Pradesh government holding a meeting for them, the displaced people rejected the politics of BJP in this election.

This campaign run by AIPF helped in defeating the Bharatiya Janata Party and its ally Apna Dal candidate. It was visible throughout the election that the public was fighting the election against the BJP. The public emerged as a hero and despite the weak organization and coordination, the SP candidates of the India Alliance won the by-elections in Robertsganj Lok Sabha constituency and Duddhi assembly constituency. Duddhi, which comes under Robertsganj Lok Sabha constituency, won in all five assembly constituencies by a margin of 43692, Robertsganj 20881, Ghorawal 28403, Obra 4760 and Chakia 31607. Now the public issues like employment, education-health, land, inflation, protection of environment and social security of workers that have emerged during this election have brought a new awakening among the people and people hope that the elected public representatives will take initiative on these questions. Along with this, the background to build public politics to solve these public issues has also been prepared in this election.

Dinkar Kapoor is the State Organization General Secretary of All India Peoples Front.

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