Voting in the second phase of the Uttar Pradesh (UP) Assembly elections is about to begin; voting is to take place in 55 constituencies spread across nine districts. If we include 11 constituencies in the first phase, then out of the 75 constituencies, more than 25% will have voted by February 14. The question is whether the leaders of this huge electorate have listened to the real concerns of people who have lost a lot of income and health. It is up to the leaders to show them their empathy.
It can be said that a turnout of 60.17% in the first phase shows a lack of enthusiasm among the population; this is less than that observed during the last assembly election. But 75.12% of polls at Kairana headquarters tell a different story. Statistics don’t always tell the true picture. Voting in an election does not necessarily have to do with voters being happy with the status quo. A closer look shows that parties seem to rely more on caste and religion equations. Attempts have been made everywhere to influence the electorate on issues such as security and justice. What I experienced in a village in western UP proves it.
Speaking with young people there, I got the impression that they were unhappy with the lack of jobs. The problem of stray cattle in their fields was another complaint. But when I asked about their voting preference, the response was that the vote would only be granted to the leader who could provide them with “security”. The word “security” has several meanings. In this particular village it was the protection of a community, while in the other it meant quite the opposite. Does this mean that as a people we cannot solve our problems through dialogue? Why do different communities express different needs regarding their security?
I’ve discovered in my travels through UP that people’s names often suggest their political orientation. On my election trips to Meerut, Ghaziabad and Moradabad, I stopped at roadside dhabas. I could identify the opinion of the electorate by their first and last name. Upon asking for a name, it became clear that their views depended on their religion and caste. The country these days is celebrating the “Amrit-Mahotsav” (75th anniversary) of independence, but there are worrying signs.
Another pertinent point is that inflation and employment are not major issues. People only want to vote for “their own” candidate. If you look at the votes of the Samajwadi Party (SP) and the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) in the last elections, you will find that even in difficult times they do not drop below the percentage of their voting base. But this election is different. Congress was unable to manage the social equations that prevailed in the 1980s. The duo Modi and Shah had read these nuances even before the 2014 elections. And therein lies the formula for their electoral success in 2014, 2017 and 2019. Now , this rainbow coalition is losing some of its luster, which is why this election has become more interesting.
In the midst of it all, however, I saw a ray of hope in the dusty villages I passed through. I spoke to many young girls and women. They spoke without any fear. They wanted peace and prosperity for their families and neighborhoods. No wonder that in Bihar, more than 59% of women voted for the alliance of Narendra Modi and Nitish Kumar. In Bengal, where Mamata Banerjee had a similar hold on female voters, she won for the third consecutive time. Will the women of the UP also be able to decide who will come to power? If so, political parties will have to focus on another “vote bank”: women.
The Congress led by Priyanka Gandhi came up with the slogan: “I am a girl, I can fight”. She kept her promise to give 40% of tickets to women, but it would be unrealistic to expect immediate results. Winning an election takes ingenious organization, clever and engaging slogans, and real grassroots connection. For the moment, the Congress party has none. If Priyanka Gandhi Vadra sticks to this narrative, maybe she will succeed in the 2024 election.
This election will answer another question. Do the alliances formed just before the elections really work? Building on previous alliances with the Congress and the BSP, the SP this time reached agreements with the Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD), the Suheldev Bhartiya Samaj party, a faction of Apna Dal and Mahan Dal. He also cleverly featured some of his own candidates on the RLD symbol in the UP West. It is probably a shield against poaching during the post-election scenario, possibly the Delhi durbar.
Today, February 14, is the day of the second phase of the ballot. Will the voter this time consider issues he seems to have forgotten? This election gives them the opportunity to reflect on what really matters in their daily lives.
Shashi Shekhar is Editor, Hindustan
Opinions expressed are personal