Ideological politics, for all its pop appeal, is the first bastion of the scoundrel. If the people of any state in the Republic of India should know this, it has to be the people of Uttar Pradesh. As the results of the just-concluded seven-phase assembly polls in UP are to be announced on Friday, one thing has been made clear: localised issues, not all-straddling ideologies, have been the determining factor for the electorate this time round. For far too long phantom carrots have been dangled by political parties in an arena that has been compartmentalised in various identity boxes — whether with a caste, religious or community tag on each carton. The ‘social justice’ agenda, loved by the likes of BSP leader Mayawati and Samajwadi Party (SP) chief and incumbent Chief Minister Mulayam Singh Yadav, had stopped charming its target audience. The starkest pointer that ideology as an election strategy has run out of batteries came when the BJP, toying with the idea of revisiting Hindutva before the polls, floundered around trying to come up with some worthwhile issue. It failed to do so.
As the fractured picture of life after the UP 2007 assembly polls emerges, one can’t help but notice the disparities in voting patterns across the biggest state in India. Mayawati’s strategy to reach out to non-Dalits does not seem to have upset her core constituency of Dalits in western UP, Bundelkhand and north-east UP at all. In Ruhelkhand, Awadh and eastern UP, the SP may reap rewards — not for its self-proclaimed ‘secular’ credentials — but for its development agenda.
While lack of ideological politics may make less colourful copy for pundits and hacks, the truth is that an atomised focus on development — or the lack of it — by the electorate is the best thing to have happened to UP in a long while. Let there be no doubt that caste and religion still do matter. But these are no longer deciding factors, if one goes by the various political calisthenics and pre-poll alliances parties had been engaged in for more than a month. Muslims, Dalits, Brahmins and OBCs have been more keen to know which party can provide them electricity, drinking water and roads than sticking to ‘manufactured’ voting patterns. Which is why political parties too have been pragmatic enough to venture out of their ideological citadels hoping to capture new ground. And their weapon of choice has been the promise of development, which by its very nature is localised and immunised against the brain fever which accompanies various -isms.