The one thing that unites the disparate group of college students talking elections at El Chiko, one of Allahabad’s coolest coffee shops, is their dark view of politics. In the ongoing seven-phase elections in Uttar Pradesh, talking politics is their favourite lunch-hour pastime at Allahabad University.
This is how Suchita Mehrotra, a third-year student of law, reviews the ruling Samajwadi Party’s work in the state: “If it worked on education, it could make people capable of getting employment. Then they can buy a smartphone or a laptop themselves. They wouldn’t need freebies. That’s simply a tactic for buying votes.”
And this is what Puneet Mohan Das, a final-year student of law, thinks of the BJP government at the Centre: “Whether it does anything else or not, it has expanded our vocabulary. It gave us words we had never heard before: surgical strike, asahishunta (intolerance), demonetisation.”
It’s poll season and there are many issues on top of their minds. Employment is one, but it’s not keeping them awake at nights.
“What’s the point? Look at the Samajwadi government. Every time it creates a vacancy, the matter gets stuck in the courts,” says Rohit Kumar Gupta.
His point: once a party comes to power in UP, it fills the government posts with its loyal voters. “Currently, there are four holy sites in UP. Etawah, Mainpuri, Kannauj and Firozabad – SP strongholds – only people from these places get employment; the rest are mysteriously never able to qualify.”
Jobs may or may not influence the youth vote, they say, but the new spirit of nationalism might. “I think the surgical strikes will be a factor in this election. It must have happened earlier also, but this time we saw it on posters, banners, hoardings everywhere,” says Gupta.
They disagree over whether it will benefit the BJP. For Punit Mohan Das, a BJP supporter, it’s a winning move. But Pranavesh Yadav, an SP enthusiast, argues that viral WhatsApp jokes mocking it indicate otherwise.
“The best was: a guy asks a girl for her phone number, she said no, he says ‘soldiers are dying on the border, you can’t even give me your number’.”
For Yadav, the BJP rule at the Centre marks the end of democracy. “If you criticise the government, people brand you anti-national, you will be charged with treason. It’s actually happening.” Yadav may not like him, but he can’t deny Narendra Modi’s spell over the youth. “Notebandi has given youth the message that the government at the Centre can take any bold step.”
Even the tactical alliance of ‘youth leaders’ Akhilesh Yadav and Rahul Gandhi will find it hard to shake Modi’s grip on the youth vote, as everyone around the table argued.
“We would have supported Akhilesh if he had not joined hands with the Congress, which has such a bad record of corruption,” says Aditi Upadhyay. “Akhilesh would have benefited from the feud in the SP otherwise. Now it is going to cost him.”
Mitra Manohar adds from across the table, “Both are young, which is good for their alliance, but can’t say if that will mean a doubling of youth vote.”
How much will caste matter as they head to their towns and villages to cast their vote? A lot, says everyone. “Supreme Court can rule that parties can’t seek votes based on caste and religion but you can guess why a particular candidate got the ticket from precisely these two local factors,” says Aditi Upadhyay.
“The BJP manifesto came much after the Supreme Court judgment. Party chief Amit Shah said if the BJP comes to power, it will build the Ram Mandir constitutionally. You are simply playing religion politics,” says Pranavesh Yadav.
Rohit Kumar Gupta gives the parting shot: “UP ki jo janta hai, woh caste ke upar nahin uth paayegi (people of UP can never rise above caste politics).”