Charkhari (UP): Dotted with hillocks, Charkhari, on the border of Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh, is a story of high hopes and acute deprivation as the political debate in the newly de-reserved constituency now revolves around firebrand Uma Bharati.
   
The high profile BJP leader's candidature from this Assembly segment, which was earlier a reserved seat, has brought it in sharp focus in the UP Assembly elections, but the attention has done little to alleviate the squalor in the area.
   
Though winning the seat would not be a herculean task for the former Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister, she faces the daunting challenge of meeting the expectations of the people, who appear to be looking for a saviour to bail them out of the present morass.
   
Like in most other constituencies of Bundelkhand, Charkhari has maximum votes from the Scheduled Castes, including Jatavs, at around 1 lakh, followed by almost 70,000 Lodhs and almost 30,000 each from Brahmins, Kushwahas and Yadavs.
   
The ruling Bahujan Samaj Party has fielded Rath MLA Chaudhary Dhooram, a Lodh, from the seat.    

The Lodh votes, however, appear to have substantially moved to Bharati's kitty, a Lodh herself, while Dhooram's personal equations with the Dalit cadre in BSP are not great.
   
Moreover, the induction of former BSP minister Babulal Kushwaha into BJP has helped Bharati consolidate that vote base in her favour.
   
Kushwaha also addressed an election rally here. Congress has fielded former Samajwadi Party leader Ramjeevan Yadav from the seat while Kaptan Singh Rajput is the SP candidate.
   
Charkhari had been a reserved seat since 1967 and was de-reserved recently after delimitation.
   
BSP's Anil Kumar Ahirwar held the seat last time while SP's Ambesh Kumari won it in 2002 Assembly elections, wresting it from BJP's Chhotelal who had won the seat in 1998.
   
The labyrinthine of Bundelkhand politics is not new to Bharati who had been MP from Teekamgarh Parliament seat in nearby Madhya Pradesh.
   
Moreover, she had a personal bond with Charkhari, where she used to come frequently for giving religious discourses as a Sadhvi.
   
Locals also remember her whirlwind campaign in Charkhari and adjacent Mahoba during the Ayodhya issue as well as her campaign to get justice for rape victim Bhanvati (name changed) during 1995-96.
   
"Uma is not just anybody. She is not a small leader. She can address the problems of people. Her voice will be heard unlike that of many others," quips Advocate Avdhesh Patel, summing up the mood in Charkhari.
   
For Ankit Kumar, a student of BA in Mahoba Degree College, the result is already out and the contest is just for the number two position now.
   
"There is excitement after Uma's candidature was announced. Women voters, in particular, are attracted to her," says Ragini Gupta, who stays in the area.
   
The Dalit-dominated village of Chintepura, however, tells a different story where most youngsters have left for other states to earn their bread and people are indifferent to the ongoing polls.
   
"After elections are over, nobody comes here. There is nobody to raise our problems," says Mohan Ahirwar, whose only son Ramavatar has gone to Haridwar to work as a daily wager.
   
The story is the same in villages like Chamaria chowky, Dhoura and Badwasan.
   
"400 to 500 youths are away in cities for labour work," says Shiva Ravidas from Badwasan.
   
Here in lies the trouble for BSP in Bundelkhand, from where Mayawati's party had won the maximum number of seats in the last Assembly elections.
   
"There is no water for irrigation. Transportation facility is bad. There is no direct bus service to Jhansi. We have to go to Mahoba to catch buses. In the absence of good computer centres, students from here have to go to Chhattarpur in Madhya Pradesh," rues Ajay Kumar, a local.
   
Voters' disenchantment with the political classes comes to fore in Kulpahad village of the constituency as youths in the village betray total ignorance about the number of votes in the village or the caste combination.
   
"Most of the youths work as labourers. They work during the day and doze off as soon as they are home. Who is bothered about all this," says Santosh Chaurasia
   
Addressing a rally in Bundelkhand, BJP President Nitin Gadkari had projected Bharati as BJP's chief ministerial candidate for UP.
   
But before Bharati becomes BJP's face in UP, she faces the daunting task of bringing her constituency out of the shadow of bordering Madhya Pradesh as her voters look towards the other side of the border for every amenity that this part of the Mayawati ruled state is deprived of.

(Agencies)