Thursday, January 19, 2012

[ZESTCaste] The UP voter's angry, and not afraid to voice it

The UP voter's angry, and not afraid to voice it
Published: Friday, Jan 20, 2012, 9:30 IST
By Seema Mustafa | Place: Mumbai | Agency: DNA

Traveling through Uttar Pradesh, one is struck 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. One is also
struck by the political class' disinterest in the state's development,
where towns have become dumps of garbage and sewage.

Development is the issue in most parts of western UP as voters are
busy sizing up political parties and candidates. Be it Jat, Muslim,
Dalit or Brahmin, they are clear that the only way forward is
development without corruption. So they are looking at which party
will stay the course and be available when required. In long
discussions at tea stalls, roadside shops and mohallas, voters share
their concerns.

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.

We look around in Meerut, Moradabad, Bareilly, Bulandhshahr — all big
towns and cities. The roads are, without exception, broken.

The pavements are full of garbage as the municipality does not exist.
Electricity remains a luxury, with power available in the best case
for six hours a day. The sewage is overflowing. There are no red
lights, no traffic policemen. Hospitals are filthy and overflowing
with patients. Education is more private than primary, with not a
single industry in most of the belt. Employment avenues are
non-existent, with schemes remaining only 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 were demanding huge bribes.

Bulandhshahr is as it was when I visited it 15 years ago, remaining
untouched by 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 like Saleem Sherwani
contesting, winning and leaving without making an iota of difference.

The people are left to fend for themselves until elections, when the
campaign meetings take on the hue of a carnival, and 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.

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 communalism bogey to bring together
the Muslim vote, or caste to isolate a particular community. The
scramble in this very tightly contested election is for all possible
votes, so Rahul Gandhi insists that development can be possible only
under a Congress government; Mulayam Singh is busy announcing various
waivers and schemes for the youth and the farmers; Mayawati is listing
out her achievements; with perhaps only the BJP still a little
confused, as it vacillates between communalism, which its leaders
admit is not working, and development.

In a significant development, not often seen 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, Muslim voters were full
of praise for the local BJP candidate who was described as a 'good
man' and as they put it, 'a leader who will rush here on his cycle
within minutes if we 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 as he did last time. In Moradabad, Muslims
and Hindus join hands to denounce Azharuddin, who did nothing for the
people. He betrayed us, was the common consensus with the people
exhibiting a strange bonhomie for these parts. On a crowded Moradabad
street, Sikh residents spoke of the Punjabi part of the street, and
the Muslim part of the street, and while embracing a Muslim shopkeeper
— 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. 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 BSP supporters
quite vocal in public. A group of rickshawallas pointed out that the
BSP's Dalit base was intact. Why? Because Mayawatiji has done so much
for us, was the response. Others who were critical of the 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. The Dalit vote has definitely
acquired a voice, at least in the towns of UP.

The writer is a senior New Delhi-based journalist


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