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UP poll pitch divided between development, caste politics

LiveMint logoLiveMint 02-03-2017 Pretika Khanna

Varanasi/Azamgarh/Ghazipur (Uttar Pradesh): Uttar Pradesh ke election jaati, bahubali aur arakshan pe ladde jaate hai (Elections in Uttar Pradesh are fought on caste, strongmen and reservation). That is why the election fight is so tough,” said Nar Singh Yadav, a volleyball coach in Ghazipur assembly constituency.

Yadav describes the reality of the ongoing battle for the biggest prize: the right to form the next government in Uttar Pradesh.

Despite this stranglehold of identity politics on voter preferences, both, the incumbent, chief minister Akhilesh Yadav’s Samajwadi Party (SP), and the principal challenger, Prime Minister Narendra Modi-led Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), have made a strong pitch on development—of course their own versions of it.

BSP’s election campaign vehicle in Ghazipur.

As the campaign goes into the final leg, both sides continue to make their sales pitch on development laced with partisan appeals to social identity. The question is which brand of development will the voter plunk for? Or will it be that once again social identity will tilt the scales?

Religious polarization trumps development in Uttar Pradesh poll chatter

At stake are 89 constituencies—under a fourth of the 403 assembly seats—across key districts in eastern Uttar Pradesh, including Varanasi, Ghazipur, Azamgarh, Jaunpur and Chandauli going to polls in the final two phases. In the 2012 assembly elections, the SP won 50 seats while 14 were won by Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), 11 by BJP, seven by Congress and seven by others. But history is of little comfort as the contest this time is three-cornered—Samajwadi Party, BSP and BJP—unlike previously when it was largely a face-off between the Samajwadi Party and the BSP. Consequently voters are being wooed afresh.

Development agenda

In the run-up to election, Samajwadi Party has focused on the development work of their government, taking care to showcase the youth and vision of Akhilesh Yadav.

“There has been development and we will vote on the basis of that. The chief minister has done a lot of work for us. We are residents of a small village, never before this government came could we think that an ambulance will come right to our doorstep in times of emergency. The police patrol vans are also a big improvement. He has improved the roads here and also constructed a hospital,” said Prabunath, a farmer in Sakra Parsai village in Ghazipur constituency.

BJP hoardings in Jaunpur.

Samajwadi Party has reiterated their pitch with promises of laptops, smartphones and empowered women helpline. Along with the work of the state government, a cross section of voters seem unaffected by the internal power struggle within the party.

“Mulayam is a messiah for Azamgarh. The kind of work that he and his son continue to do for the state cannot be replicated. Akhilesh even came out successful in the test his father was taking,” said Shiv Ram Gonde, who owns a ball wearing shop in Azamgarh.

But then there are the supporters of Modi’s brand of development too.

"Mulayam is a messiah for Azamgarh. The kind of work that he and his son continue to do for the state cannot be replicated. Akhilesh even came out successful in the test his father was taking"- Shiv Ram Gonde, Azamgarh

“Modiji is taking steps in the favour of the nation. People are seeing the work that the central government is doing and it would be nice to see BJP come in the state as well. Having seen the work in Varanasi, the city is much cleaner now. Thanks to the central government, toilets have been constructed in our village,” said Rakesh Singh, a farmer in Reithi village in Zaffrabad constituency.

Social identity

Shyam Kumar, a resident of Saidpur, a reserved constituency, is hopeful that the BSP will manage a comeback. “If there really was development in the state, then why would we vote on the basis of our caste? Both the BJP and SP talk about development but the ground reality is that nothing has happened,” Kumar said.

Caste politics has played a key role in the state. Dalits, who constitute 20.7% of the state’s population, have been a traditional voter base for the BSP.

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“It is not that other governments have not done any work, they must have but it is not for us. No one thinks about the Dalits. During Mayawati’s government, we enjoyed full safety. There was control on the law and order situation in the state. She stood up for our rights and for that Dalits will not leave her side,” said Baharu, a resident of Mehnagar constituency in Azamgarh district.

He added that even today jobs, electricity and gas subsidies were all based on caste.

“Caste at the end of the day is what will decide this election. As the election is progressing the narrative is becoming stronger even with political parties. During ticket distribution, parties have paid extra effort to focus to see the caste breakup of the constituency,” said Ashok Upadhyay, professor, political science at Banaras Hindu University.

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