Guns rule `badlands` of Bhind-Morena

Election is just another passing season in the Chambal ravine or "beehads" which has harboured dacoits for centuries.

Bhidousa (Chambal): Election is just another passing season in the Chambal ravine or "beehads" which has harboured dacoits for centuries.

In the badlands of districts Bhind-Morena, the discourse is back to basics - life and livelihood.

Dacoits no more exist or at the least the administration believes so, but the deprivation remains.

However, the fascination for guns rules all and sundry and it is a daunting task for the police to ensure that all the licensed guns are seized before each election in the region, where temper runs high and blood is frequently spilled over minor land disputes.

As many as 630 licensed weapons have already been seized by policemen in Sinhonia of Dimni Assembly constituency in Morena district.

Criss-crossing the tumultuous, unwieldy, deep and high of the huge anthill like mud structures as one reaches Bhidousa, the village of Pan Singh Tomar, the protagonist of Bollywood director Tigmanshu Dhulia`s acclaimed film, the story is no different.

The annoyed glance of a dozen youths playing cards at the entrance of the village, mostly in their forties, welcomes visitors.

"We play cards and while away our time," is the curt response of a brash youngster when asked what they do to eke out a livelihood.

Cutting across community lines, the villagers swear by guns and justify their fascination for it citing needs like "self defence" and "livelihood".

"These guns get our youths jobs as security guards in cities. What to do? There is no other occupation. They try to get into Armed forces. Those who fail to make it join as security guards. Those without gun licenses and poor end up being agriculture labour here or daily wagers in cities," says Sandip Mahour, a BCA pass-out and Panchayat Gram Rojgar Sahayak from Bhidousa.

Mewaram Sharma, a Brahmin priest proudly claims that his grandfather had got a licensed gun for self-defence, when dacoits ruled the roost. The weapon has now been passed on to the fourth generation, his son.

The education scenario, especially for women in the villages here is dismal.

Bhidousa falls under Dimni assembly segment of Morena district where sitting BJP MLA Shivmangal Singh appears pitted in a direct contest against a younger Congress candidate Ravindra Singh Tomar, who had lost the last Assembly election to him by 256 votes, triggering allegations of malafide.

Tomar, who originally hails from Uttar Pradesh, was a member of Samajwadi Party but later joined Bahujan Samaj Party and contested on its ticket here in last Assembly polls.

After the shocking defeat, Tomar had a dalliance with BJP for a short span but soon got disenchanted and is now a Congress candidate.

The Congress candidate appears riding on a sympathy wave and is considered by villagers as more approachable but the `Chanakya` of Chambal politics, BJP state chief Narendra Singh Tomar, is leaving no stone unturned to ensure the victory of his party candidate Shiv Mangal.

Working on the lines of caste politics, BSP has fielded a Brahmin candidate Balbir Dandoutia, while both Congress and BJP have fielded Tomar (Kshatriya) candidates in this region called Tomarghar (the area of Tomars).

Some villagers in Bhidousa expressed their disinclination to attend public meeting of the BJP state chief in nearby Sinhonia village.

"Who will take care of the cattle, if we go on attending meetings," says Vishnu Singh, the maternal grandson of Pan Singh Tomar.

"Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan came for the first time in Dimni this election not to speak of visiting our village," he adds when asked whether the chief minister ever visited the region.

Migration of youths is common in the villages of Bhind and Morena and the anger against the political class is palpable.

"Sadak par ghoomat hain (youth loiter on the streets)," says one Bikram in Morena bazaar, when asked what the youths in his age-group are doing to earn a livelihood.

"I have a driving license but no gun license," he said when asked about gun culture in the area.

"BSc, MSc pass outs are unemployed. Chief Minister announces many things but gains are pocketed by middlemen. Our kids have to go to cities like Surat, Ahmedabad, Mumbai, Delhi and other big cities to eke out a livelihood," says Dandel Singh Yadav from Sumawali Assembly segment.

The Chief Minister is not unmindful of burgeoning problem of unemployment in the region.

In several meetings, the Chief Minister promised that after "freeing" Chambal from dacoits, he would industrialise the belt.

Few months back at a press conference, Chouhan talked of tourism development in Chambal.

Having observed politics in the region for decades, Dandel Yadav said that the contest is triangular in the constituency between BJP, Congress and BSP and hence the victory margin could be below five thousand votes.

In Sumawali, BJP has fielded Satyapal Singh, son of two time MLA Gajraj Singh.

Congress candidate is sitting MLA Adal Singh Kansana while the BSP has fielded Ajay Singh Kushwaha.

Maywati`s party had won three of the 34 seats in the Gwalior-Chambal region in last election including two from Morena and Jaura districts. It had won total seven seats in Madhya Pradesh then.

In seven seats of Gwalior-Chambal region, the BSP was the runner-up.

This time also besides Morena, where it had won two seats, BSP is focusing on seats from Mehgaon, Senvada and Lahar in Bhind.

For 62-year-old Babu Singh Yadav of Jafrabad only Congress can change the face of the region and he believes that the projection of Jyotiraditya Scindia has galvanised the party.

Scindia has gone on a whirlwind tour of the Chambal region this week promising people all-round development.

Moreover, the Congress believes that BSP has weakened after Mayawati lost Uttar Pradesh elections and it will be able to get some of the votes of her party in its fold.

Paying scant regard to these dynamics of politics, people, however want solution to the real problems.

The uneven mounds of the "beehad" land is increasingly being flattened for agriculture work.

"People grow mustard on this land as it requires less water. Some have got the lease to do it, some do it illegally," says Doctor Ramdas, a village quack in Ruaria village in Dimni.

But violence creeps in occasionally even now. Recently, a man and his nephew were shot dead over a petty property dispute.

Every village has more guns than police stations surrounded by odd half-a-dozen villages.

It`s a heady cocktail of unemployment, arms, disputes and a history of gory rebellion in Chambal ravines, where names of Phoolan Devi, Malkhan Singh, Mohar Singh, Madho Singh, Vikram Mallah, Putlibai, Seema Parihar and the numerous other still ring in the air.

Some have died but live in folklore, some still living but reduced to mere a reminder of the deprivation and failure of the justice delivery system that largely bred dacoit culture in the region.

Govind Tomar of Kolua village, who claims to be a kin of Pan Singh Tomar claims that the latter was forced to become a dacoit.

"If injustice is done, even today somebody will pick up the gun. Don`t you think so?" says the BSc 2nd year student.

It remains to be seen what will be the fate of Shivraj Singh Chouhan`s promises to turn Chambal into an industrial and tourism hub or the assurances by Congress for special package and all-round development of the region.