In this, the most populous state of the country with 166 million people, a state which elects 80 members to parliament and often decides who will rule in Delhi, elections are no longer about issues concerning the common man.
A journey across eastern Uttar Pradesh, where voting for 16 seats will take place on Thursday, shows that in the absence of any major issue political parties are trying to forge a winning combination based on local factors and caste combinations.
In 2004, the SP won seven seats in this region, commonly known as Poorvanchal, followed by the BSP’s five. The Congress and the BJP managed only two seats each.
The region has seen little development in the past six decades, and politics has been dominated by mafia dons. Political parties have done little to check the growth of ‘gun culture’, and the outlawed dons have mastered the art of switching loyalty to whichever party is in power. The ruling BSP has liberally given tickets to known criminals. The dreaded Ansari brothers — Afzal and Mukhtar, the main accused in the murder of BJP MLA, Krishnanand Rai in 2005 — are both contesting on the party’s ticket. Afzal from Ghazipur, and Mukhtar, who is now in Kanpur jail, from Varanasi. The BSP has four more candidates with criminal records. The SP, the BJP and its ally, the JD(U), have a candidate each in their list with criminal records.
The failure of the parties to highlight people’s issues like unemployment, price rise and lack of development is reflected in the general lack of interest among the voters, just five days before polling. “Unlike previous years, this time it is an issueless election for which I hold the political parties responsible,” says Dr Chandrakala Padia, a political analyst.
“It would not be correct to say that there is no major issue in this election. The difference is that parties are concentrating on winning more and more seats,” says BSP leader and state minister Naseemudin Siddiqui. Congress general secretary Digvijay Singh says each election is different. “If there is no resentment against the centre, you cannot manufacture it,” he avers.
However, all parties are talking about forming a government at the centre and for this, the thrust is on keeping the dominant community in good humour. Another unique feature is that all four parties in the fray are wooing the traditional voters of their rivals. The BSP, with solid Dalit backing, is working hard on the Muslims and OBCs. Its main rival, the SP, has a following among the OBCs and Muslims, and is trying to woo the upper castes and Dalits. The BJP, a traditional upper caste party, is trying to keep its flock together and attract the backwards. The Congress has a following among the Brahmins and Muslims, and is trying to cut into the BSP and SP supporters.