Today, Uttar Pradesh will conclude voting for its next government by selecting the final 40 of its 403 legislators. Star status is reserved for the ancient city of Varanasi because it is Prime Minister Narendra Modi's parliamentary constituency. But about 130 kilometres away, the election will be truly historic for 11 villages - this is the last time they will vote because a new and huge dam is to be completed by June next year, and the 4,000 families that live here will have to move out of their homes in the Sonbhadra district, which sends five representatives to the legislature.
- Sonbhadra district elects 5 legislators in Uttar Pradesh
- Major new dam to be completed by June next year
- 11 villages being removed, upset with compensation rates
The dam on the River Kanhar has been 40 years and Rs 2,500 crores in the making. It is meant to irrigate 27,000 hectares of land in 200 villages in this part of Uttar Pradesh and across the border in Jharkhand, providing much-needed water to an area vulnerable to drought.
Fulkunwar Devi is 50. She says land for the construction of the dam was acquired between 1976 and 1982. But work was stalled, allegedly because of a lack of funds, and nobody moved out. Now, villagers like her want the amount they were paid to be increased, based on rates set in the Land Acquisition Act that was cleared by parliament in 2013. In most cases, people - whose land is taken for infrastructure or industry - are entitled to four times the market rate.
"Who should we vote for? No one cares for us. I remember a protest (asking for higher compensation) where we were lathicharged... Who came to help us then? So what is the use of voting now? " Fulkunwar Devi says.
But the state government says that technically, the project was never suspended and that research for the dam and its construction remained active, so the old compensation rates are justified.
The government of Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav also says that the 1,400 families whose lands were taken earliest are being given more money. "We will give compensation to everyone soon if we continue getting funds," says Vijay Kumar, the main engineer at the Kanhar Dam project, who explained that the state government has landed a loan from the centre, and is receiving the funds in tranches.
"I think we will use the NOTA option (None of the Above). No political party fought for us," says Idris Ansari.
Vijay Singh Gaud of Mayawati's Bahujan Samaj Party has been elected seven times to the state legislature from here, though the incumbent is Ruby Prasad of the ruling Samajwadi Party. In his rallies seeking votes, Mr Gaud stresses that he has been lobbying for more money as compensation to the families who will have to vacate their homes
On Sunday, at a public meeting in the area, Congress Vice-President Rahul Gandhi promised that if his candidate is elected and the party's alliance with Akhilesh Yadav is able to form the government, "we will work to provide fair compensation to everyone under the new land acquisition laws."
Most villagers here, however, agree that the dam will help their farms. Hira Prasad, a farmer in the Sundari village, said that while he looks forward to a reliable supply of water, compensation must be fair.