Keeping up with UP | On the eve of the result, looking back at key issues

  • From the farm laws to the issue of stray cattle, the elections were fiercely fought, with its usual tinge of communal rhetoric. Exit polls notwithstanding, who wins UP is still up in the air
Is there a wave in favour of the double-engine government, led by Modi and chief minister Yogi Adityanath, or are people in favour of change? (ANI) PREMIUM
Is there a wave in favour of the double-engine government, led by Modi and chief minister Yogi Adityanath, or are people in favour of change? (ANI)
Updated on Mar 09, 2022 12:54 PM IST
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BySunita Aron

It was in 2012 when, while covering the assembly elections in Bahraich and Gonda districts in central UP, I had come across families living in shanties in Barhampur village as their houses had been swept away by the swollen Ghaghra river.

Big farmers had turned into migrant labourers, small farmers into beggars and their kids into child labourers. The floods had submerged their dreams. They had been hit by floods several times, 2010 being the worst.

Here I met a domineering woman, who after accusing all political parties of their apathy, took me aside and said, “Bitiya, how much will you pay? In return, I promise 1,000 votes.”

She went on to disclose the money offered by some politicians who visited their settlement, saying, “They won’t come again to check on our well-being, so why not accept their offer.”

This is just a peep into what goes on behind the scenes during the festival of democracy, though not all candidates indulge in these unethical practices.

Elections have wheels within wheels, and a large chunk of voters either go silent or are smart enough to hoodwink the candidates, as well as the pollsters, thus raising questions on the accuracy of exit polls in the country.

Despite the methodology adopted by various agencies, it is hard to predict the outcome, unless there is a clear wave in favour of a party or its leader.

The country saw those waves before and after the emergency in the 1977 and 1980 elections, after the assassination of former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, in the 2014 and 2019 general elections in favour of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, and in UP, in its 2017 assembly polls.

So, the most pertinent question is: Is there a wave in favour of the double-engine government, led by Modi and chief minister Yogi Adityanath, or are people in favour of change?

As the fight narrowed down between Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Samajwadi Party (SP), people who wanted change chose Akhilesh Yadav. As for others, the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP)'s poll campaign was lacklustre; the Congress, despite the fire in its campaign, was short of infrastructure.

Interestingly, pollsters were unanimous about a neck-and-neck contest between the BJP and the SP and a majority of the exit polls have also projected a return of Yogi and the BJP. None have projected a fractured verdict or a dark horse, though, the reportage of elections is never complete without one — this time, it's the BSP.

Perhaps, this election will also decide about the accuracy of these exit polls as those, who dispute their assessment, are circulating a one-line message — Do Mayi Didi Gayi — referring to the West Bengal predictions.

So, let’s have a relook at the issues that not only decided the election, but also helped political parties.

Farm laws: Farmers, irrespective of their ideological faces, had united against the central government’s decision to introduce farm laws and launched a year-long agitation demanding their repeal. The Prime Minister, after reading the public pulse, withdrew the farm laws ahead of the elections, breaking the farmers' unity, but this could not douse their anger. The BJP resorted to damage control, spoke of law and order ("love jihad") and the Muzaffarnagar riots to rake up communal sentiments.

However, the Bharatiya Kisan Union and the Rashtriya Lok Dal-SP alliance took innovative steps to retain the revived, yet fragile, communal and social harmony, and are hopeful of a big jump in their votes.

RLD gains: The RLD got an impetus and has finally revived itself. It is ready to play a role in the 2024 Lok Sabha elections, irrespective of the poll partner it will choose. Former party president, late Chaudhary Ajit Singh, used to frequently switch loyalties.

However, his son and current president Jayant Chaudhary has so far remained firm on his decision to remain friends with Akhilesh Yadav of the SP. Their "kisan ke do bete" counter to Yogi’s jibe "do ladke" has been quite a hit.

Communalism and nationalism: The BJP successfully played this ‘dhun’. This helped the party retain its Hindutva vote bank despite the caste injected chinks. Many said, “nationalism (also used for Hindu-Muslim) drives me to the BJP though my business interest tells me to vote for the SP.” Modi’s image and nationalism remained a driving force in favour of the BJP.

Perhaps, for the first time since the Ram temple movement of the mid-1980s, Kashi, Mathura and Ayodhya were not election issues and the sloganeering and saffron bands were less visible.

Caste composition: The major gainer was the SP as its president Akhilesh Yadav stitched alliances and brought in prominent leaders to attract non-Yadav OBCs — a vote bank that the BJP had cultivated in 2014. Akhilesh tied up with Suheldev Bharatiya Samaj Party (SBSP), Apna Dal (Krishna Patel) and Mahan Dal and lured in Swamy Prasad Maurya and others. In the process, Akhilesh filled up the vacuum of a backward leader in the state as he successfully shed the image of a Yadav leader. However, his main challenge was to leap from 47 assembly seats that SP won in 2017 to the magic figure of 203 in 2022. Nonetheless, he is the main gainer.

Stray cattle: As the elections moved from west to east, the issue of stray cattle haunted the BJP. Even the Prime Minister had to promise a viable solution to the problem. The issue is not new in east UP, but Yogi’s strict ban on cow slaughter created havoc for farmers and their crops.

UP ke kisanon ko chhutte jaanvaron se ho rahi dikkaton ko hum gambhirta se le rahe hain (we are taking the problems faced by farmers due to stray cattle seriously),” Modi said at a poll rally in Bahraich.

Main aapki chinta ko poori tarah samajhta hoon. Main aapko batana chahta hoon ki main raasta khoj karke laaya hoon, doston (I understand your worries and I have found a way out, friends),” he said.

And a day later at a rally in Barabanki, Yogi reminded the crowd about Modi’s assurance to solve the problem of stray cattle in UP. More than 15 of the 31 districts, which the government identified as "sensitive" — where the cattle problem was most acute — went to the polls in the last three phases. The BJP's loss will be the Opposition's gain.

Rations and other benefits: The government’s decision to dole out ration to the poor till March-end, besides the construction of toilets and houses for the poor can be a game-changer in a society where poverty continues decades after Indira Gandhi gave the slogan of "Garibi Hatao". But then, people also complained about ‘five kilo anaj mila aur 500 kilo chhutta janwar kha gaya.”

Some other issues that worked during the elections were unemployment, the restoration of the old pension scheme, and lest we forget, Priyanka Gandhi Vadra's iconic line: "Main ladki hun, lad sakti hun" (I'm a girl, I can fight).

The suspense continues. The tea stalls at Kashi, famous for knowing the pulse of the people, have started discussing “kaun banega mukhya mantri.” They mention three names: Yogi, Akhilesh, and Keshav Prasad Maurya.

Elections are a gamble and often throw surprises. What’s next? We'll have to wait and see.

From her perch in Lucknow, HT’s resident editor Sunita Aron highlights important issues related to the elections in Uttar Pradesh

The views expressed are personal

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Thursday, July 07, 2022