It was here in UP that ‘Boforia’ (rural slang for Bofors) caught the attention of the people, while we in Delhi were yet to deem corruption as a vital electoral issue. It was here that people decreed that India was “not shining”, while we in the metros believed it was, under the NDA. It was here that people opted for faith over despair when they decided to go for ‘garibi hatao’ rather than ‘Indira hatao’, which was an urban sentiment. This is rural India. There is only one certainty in this hazy and fluid electoral scenario: rural India invariably sets the agenda for the polls, while we try to analyse it for them from TV studios or through media campaigns and other communication conduits like YouTube, FM radio etc.
It’s a new era of voting, one that defies simple logarithms. What is it that can be called a significant electoral theme this season? Terror? It doesn’t generate much trepidation beyond the metros, as bucolic India still grapples with far more dreaded situations than a few gun-wielding youngsters can create. Is it the global economic meltdown then? Well, rural India is not affected by the dollar conversion rate or the cash reserve ratio, which makes headlines in urban centres. The point is that, this summer, cross-national variations are eluding election-watchers, who are yet to decipher what India fancies, or figure out what India thinks, no matter how much we would like to believe otherwise. So, most debates centre around ‘metro thoughts’, which the rural voter does not seem to have much appetite for.
While travelling in the interiors of politically vibrant UP, a novel catchphrase provided a few pointers. A village wise man told me that it was all about the ‘batora’ factor, a new topical explanation for re-aligned political cleavages. Batora stands for a loose, designless collection of ballots. Somehow this quaint phrase, signifying a rudimentary ingenuity and inventiveness, seemed to clarify a muddled picture.
Batora symbolises a collapse of ideology and traditional votebanks. Furthermore, it denotes a loose arrangement that is yet to take an assured shape and will be guided by ensuing events. However, voter defection might just spring a lot of surprises across the political spectrum this time around.
The astute interpreter also added, “Batora vote jitwaega, batori sarkar banwayega.” How did this model come into play? Lack of a national agenda or appeal, and of ideological premises and traditional votebank vigour are some of the reasons. Established votebank politics in India, for once, is showing serious cracks — enticing the disillusioned voter away from his habitual allegiances.
The Dalit vote, long wedded to the fortunes of the BSP, might still be Mayawati’s forte but Brahmins, who aided her landslide win, have now joined the batora brigade. Muslims may continue to be a potent votebank, but no longer for one specific party; they are the prime movers of the batora contingent, and the one who’s able to bring them together will be crowned. Traditional patterns are giving way to a new matrix, as batora heralds the subsiding of the social engineering pioneered by Mayawati. Mulayam Singh is also trying to use this factor to good effect by incorporating Kalyan Singh’s Lodh vote into the SP’s ranks.
This batora factor will yield dividends to several unexpected beneficiaries. For example, Rahul Gandhi’s decision to go it alone in UP and Bihar is likely to be a startling stroke of triumph. The Congress will have a bigger vote share and might improve its tally too.
India’s heartland, UP, seems to be sounding out a national consensus: that the next government will inimitably be a batori sarkar, dependent on the skilful collating of different groups under a single flag. This time, the Communists are exhibiting a capacity to adapt and amend (like the Congress and BJP) which, if done successfully, would make a Third Front government a distinct possibility.
Anmol Saxena is Bureau Chief, Aljazeera English, New Delhi.
(These are his personal views )