April 27 saw an angry village in Punjab voting against 'wily and unconcerned' politicians. By deciding not to vote. A unanimous decision taken by the panchayat in Ropar district's Mirzapur village, an hour's drive away from Chandigarh had the entire village boycott the 11th Lok Sabha elections. Not one of the Harijan-Gujjar village's 332 votes was cast. Too insignificant a number perhaps to upset the country's electoral mathematics. But a verdict that, the humble villagers hope, will teach the "besharam Hindustani netas (shameless Indian leaders)" not to take the Indian electorate for granted.
Disgusted at the politicians' indifference to their repeated pleas against the construction of the Mirzapur dam which "obstructs the natural flow of water every monsoon and submerges the village for weeks on end", the villagers have decided to refrain from voting till the Government is shamed into paying heed. "This is only a beginning. We will teach the sarkar in Delhi to be embarrassed.... Laden with promises they come begging for votes from us poor folk every election. Later, they refuse to recognise us when we approach them with our problems," says an irate Dilla Singh, the village sarpanch. Unable to contain his anger, he adds: "Tell them that the country's poor have woken up to their game. We'll decide the rules now."
At present, however, the Mirzapur folk are preparing for the approaching monsoon that plays havoc with their lives. All thanks to the Mirzapur dam, part of a Rs 500-crore World Bank scheme for watershed management. Residing two miles upstream from the dam, the 92 families in the village fearfully await the rainy months that are going to see Mirzapur inundated yet again.
Last year, recall villagers, the "unnaturalcollection" of water in the dam had submerged their homes for days. Boats had to be used to travel within the village. "No food, no drinking water, no medical help, no power, dead cattle, standing crop killed...it was harrowing. But no neta showed up. We were left to our fate," reminisces Gurinder Kaur as she clutches her three-month-old son protectively.
Shaking his flowing grey beard in disappointment, octogenarian Karamchand Singh observes that the villagers have never neglected their duties as voters in the 49 years since Independence. But, he says: "What of the duties of those we elect to power? They can't just watch us drowning while we help them form governments at the Centre. We won't take this anymore."
A sentiment that unites the Gujjars and the Harijans in this Punjab village set in the Shivalik ranges. Somnath Singh, a Harijan, points out that the same netas who fan emotions to exploit caste vote banks in the village before elections weren't bothered that the waters of their well "mingled with that of the Gujjar's" when the dam waters flooded Mirzapur.
FRUSTRATION at the Government's lack of enthusiasm in rehabilitating them adds to Mirzapur's fury. Though an Implementation Committee for the project set up by the Punjab government a year ago has apparently recommended Sangatpur, Dera Bassi and Mianpur as possible sites for relocation, nothing has been conveyed to the villagers. "We hear they want us to leave our homes. But do they have the decency to tell us? Will we just be thrown out one fine day?" asks 38-year-old Dilip Singh. "Shouldn't they seek our opinion?"
But negotiating with the villagers never seems to have been a part of the political agenda here. With over 150 acres of their land acquired for the project, the villagers have been offered a meagre Rs 2,160 per acre as compensation. Mirzapur is the last village on the border adjoining Himachal Pradesh and land here is expensive—according to the villagers, over Rs 50,000 an acre. Not surprisingly, no villager has accepted compensation. "Not that it is giving any neta sleepless nights," says Dilip Singh.
"But we hear that the hawala kand is giving them nightmares," guffaws 20-year-old Gurdev Singh. And despite the seriousness of their predicament, the entire village gathering breaks into laughter. "Really, they are such fools. These netas . We send them to Lok Sabha and what they do there! Fight each other and kill themselves to make money. While we die. Such idiots," says young Kartara, amidst laughter.
But for the villagers, deciding not to vote is no laughing matter, neither is it resignation to a decaying democratic process. It is an offensive that they have launched against the country's "lying leaders". And they are confident it will jolt the Government into taking notice. "You have come here because of our boycott! Now you'll take our voice to Delhi. And then the sarkar will have to come here and solve our problems," they say.
Deputy Chief Electoral Officer (Punjab) Satyapal Sharma in Chandigarh hopes the wishes of the Mirzapuris come true. "Next time, we want to come back with our bags full. But we have no directives to coax people into casting their votes. Let's hope that the leaders will be able to convince the villagers to vote through sincere hard work."
And, hopefully, by the 12th Lok Sabha elections, Mirzapur's 332 angry souls will be ready to vote for India's electoral process.