The Time Press

IS Uttar Pradesh, this time, voting on real problems?

Uttar Pradesh (UP) goes to vote today in the second phase of assembly elections, held in 55 constituencies across nine districts. If we include 11 districts of the first phase, then out of UP’s 75 districts, more than 25% of the districts would have voted by the end of the day. Has this 280-million-strong state only listened to the chatter of its leaders, or have the people been able to communicate their sorrow to them?

It can be argued that a voting of 60.17% in the first phase shows a lack of enthusiasm, which is less than in the last assembly election. But 75.12% of polling at the famed Kairana seat tells a different story, altogether. However, statistics do not always tell the whole truth. Voting in an election is different from being completely satisfied with it. Attempts were made to influence voters over rhetoric like security, justice or “if they come” or “if they re-elected”. What I experienced in a village of western UP was an example of such politics.

It seemed that almost all youth were dissatisfied with the lack of employment. The terror of stray cattle in their fields was another complaint. But when I asked about their voting preference, the answer was that the vote would be given only to the leader who could provide them ‘safety’. The word ‘safety’ has many meanings. In that particular village, it was protection from another community, while in the next village, it meant protection from those who were complaining in the other villages. Does it mean that the people of India are unable to solve our mutual problems through dialogue? Why do we need the rigour of the government so much? Why do different communities have their particular requirements for security?

Such questions may confuse, but often, people’s names and surnames reveal their political leaning. During my trips to Meerut, Ghaziabad, and Moradabad, I found that the opinion of voters can be read in their name and surname. This is why I stopped asking their names at the beginning of the conversation. At the end, on asking the name, it becomes clear once again that their perspective depends on their religion and caste. The country, these days, is celebrating the ‘Amrit Mahotsav’ of independence, but there is also much poison within. Another notable fact is that inflation and employment are not as big issues as it is discussed. People want to vote only for ‘their own’ candidate. If you look at the votes of the Samajwadi Party (SP) and Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) from the last elections, you will find that even in bad times, they do not dip below the percentage of their base vote bank, but this election is different. Would there be any diffraction in its vote bank due to many reasons as the Congress has been unable to handle this social equation after the 1980s? The Modi-Shah duo had read its nuances even before they entered the 2014 elections. And one can find the pinnacle of their easy electoral success in 2014, 2017, and 2019. Now, this social rainbow is losing some of its colours and that’s why this election has become more interesting.

Amid the gloom of caste and religion, I could see a ray of hope in the dusty villages. I got a chance to talk to many young girls and women. They speak with their heads covered and their stare down, but they speak without fear. They only want peace and prosperity for their family and neighbourhood. No wonder in Bihar more than 59% of women voted for the alliance of Narendra Modi and Nitish Kumar. In West Bengal, Mamata Banerjee had a similar hold on women voters and with that, she could win for the third time in a row. Will the women of UP also be able to create such a record? If this happens, then, political parties will have to focus on this ‘vote bank’.

The Congress party, led by Priyanka Gandhi, has coined a new slogan: “I am a girl, I can fight”. She fulfilled her promise by giving 40% tickets to women, but it would not be fair to expect any immediate path-breaking outcome. Winning an election requires a resourceful organization with a lot of slogans, claims, promises, and many equations at the grassroots. At the moment, the party lacks it. If Priyanka sticks to this narrative, perhaps her hopes may be fulfilled to some extent in the 2024 elections.

This election will answer another question. Do alliances formed just before the election really work? Taking lessons from the previous alliances with the Congress and the BSP, this time, the SP has made agreements with Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD), Suheldev Bhartiya Samaj Party, Apna Dal, Mahan Dal, etc. The SP has also cleverly fielded some of its candidates on the RLD symbol in western UP. This has probably been done as a shield against any kind of poaching after the post-election scenario by Delhi durbar. Will the voter, this time, consider issues that they have become accustomed to forgetting? This election also gives them an opportunity to look within.

Shashi Shekhar is editor-in-chief, Hindustan. The views expressed are personal.

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