THE impact of climate change and human impact on the aquifers is all the more visible in the Shekawati region of Rajasthan which comprises Churu, Jhunjhunu and Sikar districts. Elections in the majority of the assembly segments in this region are dominated by “water” as an issue that transects and gets integrated with many other issues of the peasantry which includes electricity, debt waiver etc. Not to undermine other important national and state issues that include employment, price rise, corruption etc., which are also debated extensively.
Amra Ram, CPI(M) candidate while explaining the reason for “water” being the most important issue of his constituency (Datta Ramgarh) in Sikar district said that in the last three decades, water has completely driedup in some parts of his constituency. He said this has happened because of excessive extraction of ground water for agricultural purposes and now even at 500 feet below ground, there is no water left. The natural recharge of the aquifers is very slow and the region is in one of the worst crises. It was witnessed while travelling in the constituency where large tracts of lands were vacant. The farmers are forced to harvest just one ‘kharif’ crop during the monsoon season. They cannot sow the ‘rabi’ crop because water is not available.
In one of the villages - ‘Datta’, with a population of 25,000, we were shocked to note that the state is absent from the service of water utility. No household has a water connection. The water is supplied through private tankers and a family is forced to buy a tanker containing 5,000 litres of water for Rs 500. Three such tankers are needed for a month (if the family rears cattle then the usage will be threefold). For a year, the poor are forced to pay Rs 18,000. This is criminal governance. Tanka Ram, a peanut hawker in the ‘kasba’, on being asked why would he vote for Amra Ram, emphatically said when he was the MLA at that time a scheme was installed in the village to provide water. If he wins, we are hopeful we will get water through taps and will be able to get rid of the tanker lobby.
Amra Ram is able to strike a chord with the people and focuss on water and development of roads. People know him because he was leading various movements which included, movement against hike in electricity charges, movement for debt waiver and for social harmony. One of the Congress leaders Buniyad Ali while addressing a meeting of the Congress district committee in Sikar remarked, “Had Amra Ram and his Party not intervened forcefully during the riots initiated by the RSS , dead bodies would have been all around.” Such is the personality and identity of the CPI(M) in the region.
The day for both Amra Ram and Pema Ram who is CPI(M) candidate from Dhod begins early. The ‘mass contact meetings’ are held in villages from 10 am. By the day ends, nearly 15 meetings are addressed. In these interactions, large number of village people welcome with garlands and tie traditional turban to their beloved leaders. A large number of women participants could also be seen in these meetings. From 50 to 500 is the presence of the people who are generally very receptive. Some of the meetings even turn out to be interactive where the common people also speak and share their problems.
Both Datta Ramgarh and Dhod are predominantly rural constituencies. There is just one statutory town in each of the constituencies. These two constituencies have a strong presence of the Kisan Sabha and SFI. In Datta Ramgarh, there are 276 polling booths whereas in Dhod, there are 230. All these booths are being managed this time, Harful Singh, a kisan leader commented. Very confident of the victory, Harful said “we will win because the people know that we have stood by them all these five years despite the fact that we lost last time.” An observer in Sikar told that there is rebellion in both the BJP and Congress camps in Datta Ramgarh constituency and hence the CPI(M) has a fair chance of winning.
While visiting Dhod, which is a reserved constituency for the Scheduled Castes, one could easily witness the support for Pema Ram as the reception accorded to him was massive in numbers. An interesting phenomenon was the fund deposit event seen invariably in all the meetings held in this constituency. Rs 10,000 to Rs 55,000 were given to the election committee in front of every one. This money was collected by the village people. While handing over the cash they would say this is a very hard-earned money which they contribute for a very noble cause – to ensure that the representative of the poor wins. Apparently, Pema Ram is facing a millionaire in the contest, which has provoked the people to contribute to ensure that he does not lag behind in the campaign.
Another interesting feature of the campaign witnessed was the harmony and unity of the dalits, Muslims and Hindus. In one of the mass contact programme meetings of Amra Ram there were Hindus, Muslims and dalits, all seated on the dais which is not unusual. The uncommon part was that the dais was created in the gallery of the temple of the village deity. Everyone was comfortable and spoke about the issues without even acknowledging where they were seated.
But that is not just an exception. Even the elections in Rajasthan are generally peaceful. The reason suggested by Amra Ram is that the main outfit that intimidates and terrorises the people during elections or even other wise is the RSS. And the RSS has, despite the fact that the BJP has ruled the Rajasthan state several times, not been able to really build their network with the government administration. Hence when they have tried to use their onerous tactics, they were pushed behind by the democratic forces and have not been able to use the government administration. Both the BJP chief ministers were not from RSS and hence they could not implement their gameplan.
The CPI(M) is contesting in 28 assembly segments. The formidable ones include: Khandela in Sikar apart from Datta Ramgarh and Dhod, Anupgarh and Raisinghnagar in Ganganagar, Bhadra in Hanumangarh, Taranagar in Churu and Dungargarh in Bikaner.
Manik Sarkar will address a public meeting on December 5, said Vasudev who is in-charge of Sikar region and is monitoring the election campaign. He further said that Sitaram Yechury was present during the nomination of Amra Ram whereas Brinda Karat, Mohammad Salim and Hannan Mollah, Subhashini Ali and Mohammad Yusuf Tarigami have addressed many public meetings in the constituencies contested by the CPI(M).