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UP elections 2012: Which way will the tide turn?

Last updated on: January 21, 2012 11:02 IST

Image: Congress supporters sit next flags of party's logo as they attend an election campaign rally addressed by Rahul Gandhi in Gorakhpur
Photographs: Pawan Kumar/Reuters Seema Mustafa

The election drums are beating in Uttar Pradesh as the various political parties work to seduce the voters.  Travelling through the populous state, one is struck, as always, by the wisdom of the voters who see through one and all, and yet know they have to cast their vote as democratic and discerning citizens of India. Seema Mustafa reports.

Secondly, by the complete disinterest of the political class in the development of UP where towns have become dumps of garbage, and sewage.

Development is the issue in most parts of Western UP, as the voters of any caste or religion, are busy sizing up the political parties and the candidates in the weeks preceding voting day.

Be it the Jat or the Muslim or the Dalit or the Brahmin, the voters are clear that the only way forward is development without corruption, and so they are presently looking at the parties to see the one that will stay the course and be available when required.

In long discussions at tea stalls and roadside shops and mohallas, the voters share their concerns. And while they admit that the political parties would like to divide the people, they perhaps do not realiSe how well their views synchronise with the others across the belt.

 Look at us, there is not a single industry here, they point out. The candidate is not concerned, the political powers do not bother, and now they are coming back for our vote, making the same promises they are not going to keep.


Voters look for candidates who will make a difference

Image: People travel in a motorised rickshaw on a street in Rae Bareli
Photographs: Adnan Abidi/Reuters

So we look around in Meerut, Moradabad, Bareilly, Bulandhshahr, all big towns and cities of Uttar Pradesh. And see what the voters are talking about.

The roads are all, without exception, broken with pot holes. The pavements are full of garbage of days, as the municipality does not exist. Electricity remains a luxury, with the power available in the best case for six hours a day. The sewage is overflowing.

There are no red lights, no traffic policemen. The hospitals are filthy and overflowing with patients. Education is more private than primary, with not a single industry coming up in most of the belt. Employment avenues are non-existent, with the schemes being announced over and over again remaining on paper.

An old wise man tells us how he has been running from pillar to post to claim dues owed to him, and is now going to move the high court as all the officials he spoke to were demanding huge bribes.

Even journalists visiting UP look for the political candidates, follow VIP campaigns, and scream praises for leaders such as Congress general secretary Rahul Gandhi without seeing the squalor and the dirt and the poverty the people of UP are living in.

Bulandhshar, for instance, is as it was when this columnist visited the town 15 years ago, remaining untouched by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's economic reforms. In fact it has become more of a dump than it ever was.

Badaun has not seen a single industry come up in the area for decades now with glitzy boys such as Saleem Sherwani contesting, winning and leaving without making an iota of difference to the constituency.

The people are left to fend for themselves until the elections when the campaign meetings take on the hue of a carnival, and the voters rush from one to the other, in an effort to recognise the right candidate who will stay and make a difference to their lives.

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Secular parties are no longer using the bogey of communalism

Image: Rahul Gandhi walks ahead of the members of Special Protection Group during an election campaign rally at Gorakhpur
Photographs: Pawan Kumar/Reuters

The political parties have sensed this and the issues being raised in the campaigns are to do with employment, livelihood and a better future. The secular parties are no longer using the bogey of communalism to bring together the Muslim vote, or the issue of caste to isolate any particular community.

The scramble in this very tightly-contested election is for all possible votes, so Rahul insists that development can be possible only under his supervision and a Congress government; Mulayam Singh is busy announcing various waivers and schemes for the youth and the farmers; Mayawati is listing out the achievements of her years in power; with perhaps only the Bharatiya Janata Party still a little confused about the agenda, as it vacillates between communalism that its leaders admit is not working, and development.

In a significant development, not often heard in UP in the past, voters are quite happy to denounce or praise a candidate for the work he or she has done regardless of the party.

In Badaun, for instance, the Muslim voters were full of praise for the local BJP candidate who was described as "good man" and as they put it, "a leader who will rush here on his cycle within minutes if he call him." Their dislike for the BJP will prevent them from voting for him directly, they say, but they will be quite happy if he wins on his own vote as he did last time.

Similarly, in Moradabad, Muslims and Hindus join hands to denounce former member of Parliament Azharuddin, who had won from the Congress but did nothing for the people.  He betrayed us, was the common consensus with the people exhibiting a strange bonhomie for these parts.


Voters have become vocal in their preferences

Image: A Mayawati supporter shouts slogans during an election campaign rally in Lucknow
Photographs: Pawan Kumar/Reuters

On a crowded street in Moradabad, Sikh residents spoke of the Punjabi part of the street, and the Muslim part of the street, and while embracing a Muslim shopkeeper and clearly a friend, the Sikhs laughed, "Well, we fight when they (political parties) make us, but we love each other."

The tension and fear often palpable among the voter before an election is missing this time around, and Dalit and Muslim voters are quite vocal about their preferences.

Close to Baghpat where the Dalit voter has always been at the receiving end, it was interesting to find the Bahujan Samaj Party supporters quite vocal in public. A group of rickshawallas had no qualms in pointing out that the Dalit base of the BSP was intact.

Why? Because Mayawatiji has done so much for us, was the pat response. Others who were critical of BSP gathered around and there was a debate with the BSP supporters, who turned out to be Jatavs, not yielding ground.

Earlier, the Dalits were always reticent about their voting choice in public, preferring to remain quiet while others talked. The Dalit vote has definitely acquired a voice, at least in the towns of UP.

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Photographs: Pawan Kumar/Reuters