Agra: political history

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‘SC capital of northern India’

As in 2024

Deepak Lavania, April 26, 2024: The Times of India

The Agra Lok Sabha constituency, 1991- 2019
From: Deepak Lavania, April 26, 2024: The Times of India

Agra: In the city of Taj Mahal, politics intertwines with history and tourism. While the iconic mausoleum symbolises the city’s past glory, its political landscape bears the imprint of Dalit influence — Agra has earned the moniker of ‘Dalit capital of northern India’ — owing to its substantial Scheduled Caste (SC) population, constituting 25% of its demographics.

The political reins of this region have been firmly held by BJP since 2009, with the seat currently held by former Union minister Satya Pal Singh Baghel. The party has fielded him again. This stronghold reflects the intricate dynamics of Dalit politics in the region.

The ‘Anusoochit Jaati Mahasammelan’, hosted by BJP on March 7, underscores Dalit politics’ pivotal role in shaping Agra’s political discourse. The convergence of Samajwadi Party president Akhilesh Yadav and Congress’s Rahul Gandhi in Agra amplifies the significance of wooing Dalit voters. Their joint rally during the ‘Bharat Jodo Nyay Yatra’ marked a strategic move to garner support by addressing Dalit welfare concerns.

As part of the seat-sharing formula in INDIA, SP has fielded shoe baron Suresh Chandra Kardam, a former BSP worker. Kardam, 63, who comes from the Jatav community, had earlier contested the mayoral nomination for BSP from Agra in 2000 and bagged the second position. Analysts expect him to eat into BSP’s traditional vote bank.

Despite being designated as an SC seat, the Mayawati-led BSP has struggled to clinch victory here since the party’s inception in 1984. However, BSP naming Pooja Amrohi as its candidate from Agra reflects a renewed effort to challenge the existing political landscape. Pooja has a political lineage — she is the daughter of prominent Congress functionary Satya Behan, a former Rajya Sabha member from UP.

Pooja was born in Etah and graduated in humanities from Lady Shri Ram College in Delhi University. She had been actively engaged in politics with her mother. Her husband is a businessman, but she presents herself as having done advocacy work for various nongovernmental organisations.

Agra’s significance extends beyond electoral victories. The city’s dominance in the footwear market, providing substantial employment to Dalits — Jatavs in particular — underscores the economic undercurrents carving out political preferences. This has translated into electoral outcomes, with past assembly polls reflecting the shifting sands. In 2007, when Mayawati became CM, BSP won six of nine assembly seats in Agra. In 2012, when she didn’t, it still won six of nine. Then, in 2017, BJP swept all nine seats, with BSP coming second in seven. It was repeated in the 2022 assembly elections. The legacy of Agra as a bastion of Dalit history is deeply ingrained, with B R Ambedkar’s last speech in 1956 serving as a poignant reminder. Ambedkar, addressing a gathering at the Chakki Paat Jatav Basti, had expressed anguish at educated Dalits for their “self-interest”. His words resonate even today.

BJP’s strategy of amalgamating Hindutva with local caste equations has yielded dividends. Conversely, BSP’s challenge lies in bridging the gap between rhetoric and groundlevel mobilisation. The need for a cohesive vision and tangible grassroots engagement remains paramount in reshaping political fortunes.

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