It is often said that any Uttar Pradesh assembly election hinges on four Cs — communalism, criminalisation, corruption and caste. Yes, all are factors in India’s most populous state and they are being bandied about as the state’s 11.5 crore voters prepare to go to the polls. But if we were to examine which of the four Cs will swing the vote, the unambiguous choice would be caste. Now Congress’s rising star Rahul Gandhi may say that he is blind to these factors but the truth is that UP is stuck in a timewarp. So while politicians may pay lip service to development issues, at the end of the day all of them will fall back on that trusted caste formula. In this, the BSP’s supremo Mayawati has got it as right as possible. She has wooed both ends of the caste spectrum, the Dalits who are her core constituency and the Brahmins who were anathema to her earlier. Her party is backing 86 Brahmin candidates and 91 Dalits, a fairly even mix and a very good way of hedging her bets. In fact, the BSP has been organising Brahmin sammelans across the state as also rallies for Thakurs, Kurmis and Vaishyas.
If anyone thinks that demographics that show a growing youth population would work against the caste factor, they are wrong. Many candidates in the fray have criminal records. It makes little difference to the voter. Communalism does generate emotions, but elections are not lost and won on this issue. And as for corruption, it has little shock value today. Mayawati has been under investigation for financial improprieties in the past and as the state goes to elections, investigations are on into chief minister Mulayam Singh Yadav’s disproportionate assets. The issues are not agitating the voter even though rival parties keep raking them up during campaigning.
This dependence on caste is at the cost of very many pressing issues that plague the state. Its much-touted industrialisation drive has not yielded much, economic growth is slow, illiteracy is high and healthcare is virtually non-existent. Seventy-two of every 1,000 newborn children die at birth and 36 per cent of its 18 crore people go to bed without two square meals a day. At the end of the day, all that those who are elected can claim is that they have given their community a voice and self-respect. As for other more tangible benefits, the electorate knows it will have to wait for the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow for a long time to come.