Uttar Pradesh is like no other state in India, it is the country’s most populous province which sends 80 out of the 543 members to the Lok Sabha. This state’s political importance can be ascertained with the phrase that the road to Delhi lays via U.P. The same phrase came to be true in 2014 with the BJP’s performance in Uttar Pradesh where it won over 70 seats forming the fulcrum of the party’s win in the 2014 General Elections. However with its large population Uttar Pradesh comes with several caste and religious equations and is often said to be a political chessboard in itself. Over the past week I travelled across the state of Uttar Pradesh to gather the pulse of the people as they’re about to cast their vote in the ongoing General Elections. I traveled to Lucknow, Amethi, Ayodhya, Gorakhpur and Varanasi and after interacting with the locals from different walks of society, here are some of my key takeaways
- Access to Data and Smartphones : Majority of the locals owned a smartphone and had access to data across different districts of the state which is attributed to India having the cheapest mobile broadband prices in the world. The speed at which their data worked may have varied but it was a common trend that due to its availability in the first place the Indian electorate is an informed electorate. They were well aware of the various schemes and political messaging indulged in by different political parties. Owing to this information they were judging political parties on the basis of their performance or ‘vikas’ as one individual had said, keeping the erstwhile caste system on the back-burner.
- Rejection of NYAY: One common trend which was highlighted by several locals was that Congress’s minimum income guarantee scheme NYAY where five crore poor families would receive a minimum income of Rs 6000 per month was rejected. Even though they considered a minimum income scheme a noble idea, they failed to believe that the Congress Party would be able to implement it and termed this as an impractical freebie this polling season. The pulse of the people could be summarised with a man from Amethi’s tongue in cheek remark that whether the Congress Party’s leaders would be paying for this scheme with their own pockets.
- Lack of Support for the Bahujan Samaj Party: Over the course of my trip we asked the people of Uttar Pradesh who they would prefer as their next leader and the writing on the wall was clear for Mayawati and the BSP as it found no takers. This is attributed to the success of the BJP’s government pro welfare schemes such as the Ujjwala Yojana where LPG connections are provided to women from poor households; Saubhagya Scheme providing electricity to all households and the toilets being built under the Swachh Bharat Mission.
The beneficiaries of each of these schemes have previously voted for the BSP and the success of these schemes have translated into a lack of support for the same and it appears as if the vote share previously enjoyed by the BSP would transfer to the BJP this election. Further the BSP is seeming to be a liability for the Samajwadi Party as individuals in different districts in the state said that in constituencies where BSP candidates would be contesting as a representative of the Mahagatbandhan they may not enjoy a transfer of votes from the Samajwadi Party voter base owing to Mayawati’s lacklustre performance as a Chief Minister.
- Electorate’s Disconnect with Priyanka Gandhi : The Congress Party’s appointment of Priyanka Gandhi as the General Secretary of Uttar Pradesh ( East ) was announced with a lot of fanfare with the party pinning its hopes of revival in the state on her. Several individuals across Eastern UP however have not accepted this announcement with the same enthusiasm as per my interactions. They said that she has always campaigned for her mother and brother in the past decade and her entry into politics is nothing new. Further the people of Uttar Pradesh believed that Priyanka Gandhi shied away from contesting polls in Varanasi, after creating speculation about the same herself. The Congress’s announcement to not field Priyanka Gandhi from Varanasi hours prior to Narendra Modi’s roadshow was seen as a sign of concession by the Congress Party.
- Pro Incumbent Wave : In Uttar Pradesh there seems to be a pro incumbency wave in favor of Narendra Modi as the Prime Ministerial candidate these general elections. As per my interactions the government’s pro poor welfare schemes and Modi’s image of a strong and decisive leader have resonated with the electorate of Uttar Pradesh. This was evident with the mega roadshow held by the Prime Minister a day prior to him filing his nomination papers. The pulse of the youth of the state was that Modi has been successful in tiding over the caste narrative and successfully packaging the Mahagatbandhan as a ‘Majboor Sarkar’.