Jhansi: A former chief minister and a Union minister are in the fray in the Lok Sabha battle for Jhansi, regarded as the gateway to the Bundelkhand region where rising cases of farmers` suicides is a major poll issue despite a Rs 3,500 crore relief package for the area.
The part of Bundelkhand falling within Uttar Pradesh has four parliamentary seats, Hamirpur, Banda, Jalaun and Jhansi, which will be the most-watched contest after the entry of firebrand BJP leader and former Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Uma Bharti in the fray.
Among her major opponents are Congress`s sitting MP and Union minister Pradeep Jain, the ruling SP`s treasurer Chandrapal Singh Yadav and Anuradha Sharma, wife of industrialist and former minister in the previous BSP government in the state, the late Ramesh Sharma. A total of 15 nominees have filed their nominations here.
The constituency, which will go to polls on Wednesday, has over 18.75 lakh electorates -10.05 lakh male and 8.70 lakh female voters.
Famous in history for its legendary `Jhansi ki Rani` Laxmi Bai, the Jhansi constituency is spread over an area of around 7 lakh hectares and is made up of five assembly seats -Babina, Jhansi Nagar, Mauranipur, Lalitpur and Mehroni.
The major election issues in Jhansi, and the Bundelkhand region of Uttar Pradesh as a whole, are the lack of basic infrastructure facilities like water, electricity and roads as well as poor law-and-order situation.
Moreover, adding to the farmers` woes in Bundelkhand, this year was the unseasonal rainfall in February and March which has destroyed around 30 per cent of the Rabi crop.
In the aftermath of the ill-timed showers, there are reports of more than 32 farmer suicides here since March.
NGO workers on the ground allege that the Rs 3,506 crore which UP got as part of a Rs 7,266-crore package announced by UPA-II for the Bundelkhand region in 2009 has been improperly utilised and failed to change the luck of the people here.
"The UP part of Bundelkhand was allocated Rs 3,506 crore by the Centre, but if we look at the implementation, the results have not been as expected," according to a report by global NGO, Action Aid.
Although no comments could be taken from state government side officially on the issue of relief for farmers, one official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the state government had last year waived loans of more than 29,000 farmers worth over Rs 63 crore.
According to reports, nearly 2,000 farmers lost their lives in the past eight years in this region of Uttar Pradesh that has seven districts - Banda, Jhansi, Hamirpur, Jalaun, Chitrakoot, Lalitpur and Mahoba.
With the question of poor infrastructural development looming large here, the contestants are going all out to assure voters that they would address these problems and bring development to the constituency.
Bharti has even said that she would support the cause for a separate Bundelkhand state if elected to power to ensure economic growth in the region.
"I am always in favour of a separate Bundelkhand state. If my party is voted to power, I will ensure that Bundelkhand is made a separate state within three years," Bharti had said here earlier this month.
She also claims that people in the constituency are fed up with the central government`s failure to check price rise.
Jain, who is the Minister of State for Rural Development, feels he has a fair chance of retaining the seat due to his standing among the people here as a leader of the common man.
SP`s Yadav -who had won from Jhansi in 2004- says that the rural population will vote for him on his promise of development in the region while BSP`s Sharma talks of ensuring better law and order.
Sharma also says that she would work towards making Bundelkhand a tourism centre and develop its educational potential if elected from here.
But even as issues like roads, electricity, price rise and water emerge as the crucial highlights of the contest here, election watchers feel that caste calculations, too, will play a major role when people vote.
"Caste is a factor in Bundelkhand. It is not a new or rare thing in this part," said social activist Sudhanshu Bhushan Dwivedi.
Jhansi has a fair share of upper caste votes -Brahmins, Kshatriyas and Vaishyas- of around 30 per cent while Other Backward Castes (OBCs) are in the range of 35 per cent. Scheduled Caste (SC) voters are close to 23 per cent and about 10 per cent of the electors are Muslims.
Jhansi has traditionally been a Congress bastion where, in the last Lok Sabha elections in 2009, Jain secured 2,52,712 votes to defeat BSP`s Ramesh Sharma, who polled 2,05,042 votes. SP`s Yadav was third with 1,32,076 votes while BJP`s Ravindra Shukla received less than 80,000 votes.