Monday, September 22, 2014

Subhashini Ali - U.P. by-election Results, Bleak News for Voters

The UP results in the recent by-elections have been of the most interest to political observers. It was in UP that the BJP, along with the Apna Dal, together won 73 seats, a figure that contributed significantly to its unprecedented electoral victory in the national elections this year.  

At that time too, a considerable amount of time and energy were spent in analysis of the voters' verdict. "Expert" opinion had it that while an undercurrent of communal polarization certainly did help the BJP, the real propellant was the desire of voters across caste and community, especially younger voters, for jobs, for electricity, for better roads, for development, that all-encompassing catchword.  

Many of the same experts, while analysing the by-election results, have come to the conclusion that it is the Modi government's lacklustre performance on the "development front" in the last four months and the raising of polarising issues like "love jihad" by BJP leaders that have been responsible for its stunning reverses.

Even a cursory look at the detailed results is enough to bring home the reality that electoral politics of the state continue to be dictated by caste and communal mobilisation as they have been at least since 1989. In every one of the seats that the Samajwadi Party won, the decisive factor in its favour was that it was able to consolidate the anti-BJP votes in its favour because the BSP stayed away from the contest. And the Congress, which did not contest the Mainpuri Lok Sabha seat in acknowledgment, perhaps, of its support to "family" politics, was able to garner a respectable number of votes in only two of these seats, Charkhari and Balha. 

In Saharanpur, where the Congress candidate was able to divide minority votes, the BJP, helped also by the very recent riot, won. The other two seats won by the BJP are urban seats where it has a decisive edge.

The fact that UP remains mired in politics relatively unchanged for the last three decades is a matter of great concern, especially for its own voters. Communal and divisive campaigns have actually paid dividends to the BJP in these by-elections, where it lost to the SP by margins of just around 25,000 votes. Therefore, there is no reason to hope that these will be abandoned. At the same time, its political challengers will also continue to bank on caste and minority-community mobilisation for their own success.

For the people of Uttar Pradesh, where poverty, unemployment and backwardness are among the highest in the country, this means that there will be little change in their living conditions in the near future.

A short visit to some villages in eastern UP brought home some of the tragic dimensions of their situation. In Kachri village, Allahabad, farmers have been on dharna for 1,500 days against the acquisition of their extremely fertile land by the state government. The court has given a decision, which has not been appealed against, that the acquisition procedure itself was faulty and has struck it down.  Despite this, those who never agreed to the acquisition are being threatened and harassed while those who did (under tremendous pressure) have not been allowed to cultivate their fields for three years now.  

In Khiri village in rural Allahabad, more than 4000 Kols - tribal people of this hilly area which was once thickly forested and who have now lost even their tribal identity because of an unthinking, unfeeling state government - protested against the local thana which not only refused to take action against the alleged rapist of a minor Kol girl, but then went on to close the case. 

The father of the girl, Garib Ram, was a participant. Years of malnutrition and poverty have affected every part of his body including his mind, which seems to have given up the battle in the face of such terrible odds. His eyes are clouded over and came to life only briefly when those fighting for justice for his daughter demonstrated their rage against the thana.

In Basti, landless women from villages like Madvanagar, Saughat, Khajva are talking about MNREGA. Two, three, four years ago, it gave them work for 20 or 25 days in the year.  This year they got work in March. For 8 days, 6 days, 7 days and 4 days. But they have not yet received their wages.

In Deoria, all the women for miles around like others in this part of eastern UP were observing a "waterless" fast called Bijutiya which they hope will help their male children to survive.  The numbers of those observing this fast has grown in direct proportion to the spread of the dreaded Japanese encephalitis. The first rain of the monsoon brings this sickness in its wake and, in the absence of medicines, hospital beds and doctors, infants and children die in the hundreds every year.

Poverty, sickness and untimely death. A young prince, Siddharth later to be known as the Buddha, left his palace a thousand years ago and walked along these same villages in search of their cause. Today they force young men to flee their homes, crowding the roofs of trains while their wives and sisters and mothers stay home and wait.