Chitrakoot/Banda, Uttar Pradesh: "The Samajwadi Party will turn your boys into gundas, Mayawati takes two crores to give tickets, time to bring the Congress to power," sings Sampat Pal in what has become her main campaigning style - lots of songs and jansamparks in villages across Bundelkhand in Uttar Pradesh. She had fought the 2007 elections as an independent, losing to the Samajwadi Party candidate. In 2012, she ran for the state legislature as a Congress candidate, lost, but hopes for another shot now based on her popularity in this region.
Sampat Pal is the founder of the famous Gulabi Gang, a group of women in pink saris and armed with lathis who have vowed to fight violence against women in a region notorious for its record of rape crimes, dowry deaths and domestic violence. She's insistent that the group be called a "gang" - "It's the only way people in this violent region will understand that women can retaliate." Sampat Pal's deliberate use of the word is significant in a region known for its dakus, self-styled bandits whose "gangs", a part of local syntax, have inspired awe, fear and legendary stories about those who have gone on to command great political power.
"Political power", Sampat Pal says, "is the only way in which officials and the police will take women seriously." Gulabi Gang members proudly show us pictures with Rahul Gandhi from the time they went to support his rally in Banda in 2012.
Pushpa Goswami is another gang leader now active in politics. In 2008, Goswami started the Belan gang, also to tackle violence against women. Their identity marker is their belan or rolling pin, which they nearly grip at rallies, demonstrations and all public meetings. Though hers is also called a "gang", Goswami prefers the use of the word fauj or army.
"Gangs sound like the dakus, so we want a different word" is her reasoning. Hers is also the polar opposite of the Gulabi Gang on its allegiance, pledged firmly to the BJP.
"Narendra Modi has done a lot of work so we hope to bring him to power in Bundelkhand," she says.
While both Goswami and Pal say they admire women politicians, they waffle when asked why they are not supporting Mayawati. Pal says she's a Congress loyalist on account of the prominence the party accords her; Goswami deflects the question entirely.
In fact, Mayawati has come in for criticism from the third prominent woman political aspirant from this region. At her home, Sheelu Nishad says that a desire to avenge her own misfortune drove her into politics. In 2010, she was raped by Purshottam Dwivedi, a BSP MLA, who was later convicted for her crime.
"Mayawati wanted to hush this up but the Congress came to my support. If it hadn't been for them, I would have been killed," she says about why she supports the Congress. Another could be that Congress leaders at the district level have told her that the party will give her a significant role in these elections.
Ironically, Pal, Goswami and Nishad are all emphatic in their belief that electoral politics is the only way for women to gain power, but admit that issues that focus on women or the violence they face is simply not a catch point for voters.
(This story has been reported by Meera, Kavita from Khabar Lahariya, written by Radhika Bordia)