Bundelkhand turns its back on Uma Bharti

Public protests and marches against Uma Bharti received little attention in the media but the region left nobody in any doubt about how it feels about the MP from Jhansi

Photo by Mujeeb Faruqui/Hindustan Times via Getty Images
Photo by Mujeeb Faruqui/Hindustan Times via Getty Images
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Vishwadeepak

Voters in a large swathe in Bundelkhand opted for NOTA (None of the Above) on the polling day for the fourth phase of Uttar Pradesh assembly polls on February 23. Virtually half the population of Bijauli, a small town 13 km south from Jhansi, opted for NOTA, claim residents. And so did residents of several villages.


Repeated pleas made by the Jalaun District Magistrate Sandeep Kaur failed to cut any ice. But though residents of Bijauli took out a protest march against Union water resources minister Uma Bharti, waving empty pots and buckets, little media attention was paid to them.


While Bharti represents Jhansi in the Lok Sabha and is the minister for water resources, river development and Ganga rejuvenation, she is accused of delivering little or nothing to the region. And although a year ago social scientists Yogendra Yadav and Jean Dreze had drawn the Government’s attention in a report to the looming water crisis in the region, the union minister is said to have turned a deaf ear to the experts.


The report had in fact claimed that the ground water level in the region had gone down by nine times in the last decade or so.


“We feel abandoned. We are dying for water but all she does is to make more false promises,” says a woman bitterly. Ironically Bundelkhand this year received more rainfall than past several years. But in the absence of water conservation, the water has literally gone down the drain.

 Photo by Vishwa Deepak/National Herald
Photo by Vishwa Deepak/National Herald
Residents in Bijauli protest water shortage and boycott voting on February 23, the day of polling for the fourth phase of Uttar Pradesh assembly polls

Large parts of Bundelkhand suffer from poverty, famine and chronic water scarcity with Mahoba, Tikamgarh, Panna and Hamirpur being the worst affected.


“I know her since childhood. She does not have any virtue except good oratorical skills. She does not feel for Bundelkhand. Holi is yet to come but the water crisis has begun already. Since Uma Bharti is holding an important portfolio and our problems are directly linked to her department, it is natural that people harbour a grudge against her,” explains BD Gupta, social activist, historian and a former Reporter of Times of India.


The union minister’s declaration in Lucknow that she would lay down her life if Ganga was not cleaned is greeted with smirks in the region. ‘Another jumla’ is the usual refrain.


People are also irked by her failure to honour her pre-poll promise of support for a separate state.


RTI activist Ashish Sagar Dixit says, “Uma Bharti is getting known for her bluffs. She seems to have specialised in making false promises. She promised a separate Bundelkhand state but forgot all about it. Now that elections are here again, she has again started speaking about it in addition to pitching the Ken-Betwa linking project. She has been publicising this as a panacea for all our ills but I am telling you it will be a disaster.”


Although Prime Minister Narendra Modi has also publicly endorsed her claims about Ken-Betwa linking project, worth over ₹9,000 crores, people in Bundelkhand are not impressed.


“Ken-Betwa link has been finalised to satisfy vested interests. It is not to serve the people. It is to serve big industries and corporate houses. Uma Bharti is just an instrument,” says Sanjay Singh who runs an NGO Parmarth in the area and works for water conservation.


According to an estimate, he points out, 10% area of the Panna Tiger Reserve in Madhya Pradesh would be submerged by the project. Over 4,000 hectares of forest land would and dozens of villages too would be submerged. At least 12,000 people would be displaced, claimed a local journalist.


“Since both are non-Himalayan Rivers, their flow and water collection depends on the monsoon. As per the proposed plan, surplus water in Ken would be transferred to Betwa basin through a 221-km long canal, but if Ken doesn’t have water what would they transfer?” questioned Sanjay Singh.


Her attempts at dividing people on communal lines too do not seem to have worked. “We wage a daily struggle to survive—to earn a living, to get water for irrigation and drinking. But you would not have heard of any communal tension in in this area. We live peacefully together since Mughal period,” said a Muslim villager emphatically.

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Published: 27 Feb 2017, 3:07 PM