New Year But Litle Cheer for the UP Voter
Seema Mustafa, Newsclick, Jan. 9, 2012
The New Year has rung in with the usual bout of renewed hope and cheer, as Indians discard the old baggage and scan the horizon for silver linings.
Perhaps the elections will usher in a miracle of responsive and honest politicians. Perhaps governments will start bringing the poor back on the map of India. Perhaps the politicians will stop filling their own coffers and listen to the voices of the poor. Perhaps the corrupt will be caught and punished and the poor will get their due. Perhaps communalism will disappear, as will casteism and chauvinism. Perhaps prices will go down and malnutrition and starvation will cease to exist. Perhaps….
It is a long wish list but one is sure that Indians will settle for the minimum denominator of a simple life with food in the belly, decent health care, education and the promise of a good stable future. But in a country where even potable drinking water is a luxury for many villages, where electricity has still to reach, where potholes pass for roads, where untouchability still exists, where schools are run without teachers, where dispensaries exist only on paper but where politicians thrive and get richer with every election, this basic requirement too looks impossible to achieve.
Even so the election drums have started beating as the politicians get ready once again to draw in the vote. The poor are being lured out from their homes to cast the ballot, as those well versed in seduction once again use their expertise to entice the voter. In Uttar Pradesh all of them are back at it again. The BJP has twisted its knickers by quietly bringing in a couple of nasty, corrupt ministers who were kicked out of the party and the government by the BSP. The list of candidates, announced rather late in the day by the BJP, caught the state unit of the party by surprise and the howls of protest seem to have motivated the party leadership to remove at least one of the ministers from its new galaxy of ‘stars’. This has come a little late in the day, and with corruption promising to be one of the main issues it will be interesting to see how the BJP climbs over this hump.
The same fare and the same faces. Congress scion Rahul Gandhi hopes that his high voltage visits to UP will deliver the goods and the people will be sufficiently electrified to cast their vote for his party. So far the periodic visits do not seem to be working in quite the way the Congress had hoped, as the absence of a strong organization in the field is a major handicap in consolidating the vote bank. Besides there is no indication that the party has been able to dent its erstwhile Brahmin-Muslim-Dalit vote that has scattered long since and is showing no signs of returning to the Congress party. The Congress alliance with Ajit Singh in the western UP will favour the latter as his base Jat vote might be able to attract the Muslim in specific constituencies in western UP. However, as past elections have shown Ajit Singh is not in a position to transfer the Jat vote to any other party, and hence this advantage will be lost to the Congress candidates.
Mulayam Singh Yadav and the Samajwadi party remains strong in the state, and even though the number of seats slumped to the 90 odd in the last Assembly elections, the vote share has remained constant. This time around Mulayam Singh and his son Akhilesh Yadav have pulled out all the plugs to lure the Muslim voter, keeping the Yadav base intact. The alliance with former chief minister Kalyan Singh has been snapped, even as the father and son travel the state assuring the Muslims that the party stands for their development and progress. The SP has some level of support within the Thakur community and other backwards, but the big base remains the Yadav-Muslim combination. However, the Peace Party that is unabashedly Muslim in its appeal is cutting into the SP base and in an election as keenly contested as this one promises to be, even a 2000 vote deficit could make the crucial difference between victory and defeat.
The only one who appears to be overly confident is Chief Minister and BSP leader Mayawati at least in her press conferences and statements. But a high degree of panic is evident in the sacking of key ministers, and the constant shifting of candidates to fine tune the logistics of the field. The chief minister remains unrepentant about the big parks, and statues that have drawn the ire of the upper castes but it is true that right now she is unsure of all sections of the vote bank except the Dalits who have not shifted allegiance in these five long years. The Muslims who voted for the BSP in the last elections are looking for feasible alternatives as are the Brahmins and sections of the other backwards. The BSP tally will be definitely reduced from the 200 odd of the last polls, and currently the fight is over the spoils.
The BJP seems to be rudderless with the state unit and the central command at loggerheads. BJP President Nitin Gadkari clearly wants to use the UP polls to legitimize and assert his control over the party, but his lack of political acumen is already visible in the manner in which he has handled the candidates list. The agenda too seems to be diffused, as the BJP that is currently fighting for the third position with the Congress, cannot really talk of a change having ruled the state to devastation earlier. The Ram temple is a non issue now, with corruption and development representing a generational change for the party still caught in the time warp of communalism.
So there is Maya shouting about her achievements and all that she has done for the deprived sections of society; there is Mulayam fielding his son as the change symbolizing development and progress for the new generation of the backwards and Muslims; there is Rahul Gandhi battling to bring back the party on the sole platform of development and change; and there is Gadkari trying to marry development with communalism. And then there is the astute UP voter who understands it all, is cynical, and yet like a true citizen of independent India determined to cast his vote. His choices are limited but he believes in the morrow, and carries the spirit of January 1 through the Year.
Image Courtesy: flickr.com