Who will win Uttar Pradesh and why state is so important


Uttar Pradesh has been in news for all the wrong reasons. From communal riots to rampant lawlessness, from poor governance to still being a BIMARU state after getting the title 30 years back, the state politics is highly fragmented on caste and communal lines. The heart of the nation suffers on account of the greed of political parties that forget UP as soon as it gives them the taste of power.

Politically, Uttar Pradesh is the most important state in the Indian union. It sends 80 MPs to the Parliament (closest state in number of MPs to the Parliament is Maharashtra with 48 seats). Out of the 14 Prime Ministers, eight have come from Uttar Pradesh.As the old political saying goes, the road to Raisina Hill takes a detour via Lucknow; the impact of UP in national politics cannot be underplayed.

The power game in Uttar Pradesh has made the state an enthralling study as a socio-political laboratory, drawing the think tank to its ever shifting equilibrium. Kanpur based renowned political researcher Dr. A K Verma divides the political era of UP into three distinct phases, from independence to 1967, from 1967 to 1989, and from 1989 onwards.

Broadly speaking, the first phase is marked by Congress dominance and its victory over the masses as it embraced all sections and classes of the society. In the second phase, Congress lost its vision and ideologies and suffered a major setback in the Fourth General Elections of 1967. This period was characterized by the phenomenon of defections, party splits and creation of new regional political parties. Hindu nationalism came to the forefront with the birth of caste and communal politics in UP. Another significant development was the creation of Bhartiya Janata Party in 1980. Janata Dal, Bahujan Samaj Party and many other smaller parties owe their origin to this phase. Some faded in the pages of history while some made headlines.

Congress suffered a major setback as these emerging regional parties, based on caste, language and ethnic orientations, gave a new face to politics in UP; pushing the partyinto the shadows. The emerging parties succeeded in carving a place for themselves in the soil of UP by working among the people, something which Congress failed to do post 1967 and till date has not been able to. The dual incumbency of Congress (UPA) in the 8th and 9th Assembly (the period between June 1980-1988), was mired by policy paralysis and corruption. The party has since then been a mere spectator from the back benches.

1989 onwards, the third phase of UP political era has been heavily dominated by caste divide and emergence of the minorities and shift from upper class dominance in politics to OBC and Scheduled Caste leadership.

Politics of caste and class fragmentation

Since the 1st Assembly in 1952, the state has been under President’s rule 9 times. During the last 25 years, except for the short-lived Janata Dal and BJP governments in 1991 and 1992, the party system in UP has been highly fragmented and polarised. The disorder created by the Mandir-Mandal issue in Uttar Pradesh from August 1990 to June 1991 contributed to the fall of the Janata Dal government in New Delhi as well as Uttar Pradesh.

If any party has benefitted greatly from the increasing communalisation of politics in UP, it is the BJP. From zero Lok Sabha seats in 1984, to 51 in 1991 (peak of Ayodhya agitation) to 71 in 2014, the party growth chart has been remarkable. Between 1989 and 1991, BJP’s strength grew manifold. The Mandal upsurge established its base among the upper castes. The Mandal controversy was also instrumental in establishing the BSP and the SP.

Congress took a sharp hit as its vote base moved away, upper castes to BJP, Yadavs and Muslims to SP and Dalits to BSP. The fall of one giant gave rise to another three and increased the degree of fragmentation of the state’s politics.

Between 1993 and 2007, all governments were either coalition or minority governments. The 200 million strong vote base of UP has been divided on the basis of class, community and caste. The voter, from being slotted in either upper class or lower, was boxed as a Hindu or a Muslim and then sliced through a complex labyrinth of innumerable castes and sub castes. The four pillars of UP politics – SP, BSP, BJP and Congress, are constantly trying out different caste equations to increase their respective social bases to have a favourable electoral outcome.

The emergence of Kanshi Ram’s Bahujan Samaj Party in 1984 signified a new chapter in UP politics as it catered exclusively to Dalits. From the onset, it represented Jatavs, the biggest and most politically inclined elite caste among Dalits. BSP quickly consolidated the Scheduled Caste vote bank that was once a stronghold of INC.

However, the party founder never became the CM of its birth state. The BSP rose to prominence during the 1990s and quickly moved from being a state party to the third most voted national party in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections; although it failed to win any seats. Nonetheless, the poor performance of the BSP has not deterred the prime ministerial plans of the party supremo, Mayawati.

UP politics became more intriguing when the Janata Dal split leading to the rise of the Samajwadi Party in 1992. Mulayam Singh Yadav’s keen eye saw the gap left by BSP and he consolidated the OBCs. According to the socialist leader, the Hindus either belonged to the forward castes, backward castes or scheduled caste. There existed no other division. As the party gained prominence, another crack appeared in the Congress vote bank.

The Muslims in UP suddenly found a new saviour in SP and lent their support to the party. However, it was just a matter of time that SP alienated MBCs (more backward castes) from itself. Mulayam Singh Yadav favoured Yadavs over other backward castes like Kurmis and Lodhis. The state administration soon started reeking of extreme Yadavisation.

From Police department to appointment of teachers, all OBC reserved position were being filled up with the elite Yadavs. This imbalance shifted the scales in favour of BJP as it started building support among the lower OBCs and gave tickets to Kurmis as well as Lodhis. Though the BJP has many times attempted to court backward castes, the intensity has been modest due to resistance from its upper caste support base. Caste based selection of candidates is now a popular way to win support than the actual work done by individuals.

The year 2007 marked another milestone in the politics of Uttar Pradesh. The year saw the end of the coalition era as BSP performed a solo act and secured an absolute majority in the state Assembly elections becoming the first party to do so since 1991. BJP once again tried to return to the politics of Ram Temple but it could not revive the religious sentiments to catapult the party back to power in UP. BJP got a severe setback as Mayawati cornered the party by wooing its upper caste vote base. She was quick to realise that if the party restricted itself to Dalits, the electoral arithmetic would not be in BSP’s favour. The clever strategy of mixing a rainbow of castes paid rich dividends for BSP in the form of a spectacular win.

The Congress party too performed badly in the Assembly Elections of 2007. Despite the powerful campaigning of Rahul Gandhi, Congress failed to attract votes. The party had to be content with a mere 22 seats in a house of 403. The state elections also showed the other end of the caste spectrum and exploitation of caste politics as the BSP, a party based on the support of the lowest sect of the society, courted the upper crest, the Brahmins.

Politics of religion

Uttar Pradesh is a hotbed for religious politics. Even a minor issue like a discourse over loudspeakers is seen as a threat to religious identities and turns into one more issue for political parties to stoke. Over the years, the blame for communal instability in the state has shifted from one community to another.

The religious divide between the Hindus and Muslims has been getting wider and wider. Muslims always have voted to keep the BJP out of the state for its Hindutva approach.

Home to 20% of the nation’s Muslims, UP is at the helm of ‘communal riots’, resulting in large-scale deaths, injuries, loss of property, and massive displacements from the place of livelihood. UP topped a recent listing of states with communally motivated crimes – with 129 incidents over the past year (2014-15).

Since 2012, Akhilesh Yadav’s term has been marked by outbursts of communal violence. Common instigations involve hate speeches, ‘love jihad’ propaganda, threats and intimidation and ‘gharwapsi’ mobilisation.

Though it was late Rajiv Gandhi who opened the doors of Ram Mandir, all the credit for making the issue the centrepiece of national politics has gone to the BJP and the latter has used it to its benefit as and when desired. However, the Ram Mandir – Babri Masjid agenda alone is no longer the best way to consolidate votes of younger Hindus yet the issue finds prominence in every election.

Parties flourish while the people suffer

Thirty years ago, in the mid-1980s, economic analyst Ashish Bose coined the acronym ‘BIMARU’ to describe the bad state of economy in backward states of Bihar (BI), Madhya Pradesh (MA), Rajasthan (R) and Uttar Pradesh (U). He submitted the paper to the then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi. The term, resembling Hindi word bimar which means sick, brought together those states of the Indian Union which had low per capita incomes and literacy rates and high levels of infant mortality and malnutrition. Later on, Odisha was also added to the lot.

Since then, the infamous term has been permanently stamped on Uttar Pradesh for its continuous presence in the bottom ring of the human development index of Indian states. Home to largest number of poor in India, about 32% of UP’s nearly 200 million population lives below poverty line, as against the national average of 22%. 64% of UP defecates in the open due to lack of toilets. 69.7% of people in the state are literate against the national average of 74%, placing it at 29th place on the literacy index.

At 908 females per 1,000 males, the state’s sex ratio is fourth from bottom among all Indian states and with 80 out of every 1,000 newborns dying, infant mortality rate is second from the bottom. The state has the highest incidence of child malnutrition in the country. Maternal mortality rates, that is, mothers dying while giving birth due to lack of adequate facilities, is at 292, against the national average of 178.

In per capita income, it ranks fourth from the bottom. Quite contrary to the above, a few numbers ameliorate the poor performance of UP. The state is dotted with educational institutes of national and international prestige. According to a study by the World Bank and KPMG, UP holds the 10th position among Indian states in rankings based on ease of doing business. Owing to the state’s large base of skilled labourers, it has emerged as a key hub for IT and ITeS industries, including software, captive business process outsourcing (BPO) and electronics. The economy of Uttar Pradesh is the third largest economy in India after Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu, however, in 2013-14, the state had one of the lowest annual economic growth rate in India.

Why is UP the way it is?

Denied its rightful place, UP suffers from the neglect of all. The prized possession of any political party, UP has been struggling to catch up with Kerala, Gujarat and other developed states. UP’s political culture is much to be blamed for the situation the state is in. All ruling parties have failed on their promises of socio-economic development.

The state has been used by every political party as a stepping stone to Lok Sabha, with the well-being and good governance of the state never being a priority for any ruling government or opposition. Across all social divides, unemployment remains high and basic amenities like drinking water, hygiene and sanitation are far from satisfactory. Farmer issues find mention only in election manifestoes and speeches.

Each party brings its own agenda to capture power but forgets about the people as soon as the verdict is delivered.

Mayawati’s autocratic style of functioning has been heavily criticised and her four tenures as CM are known more for lavish spending than developmental progress in the state. She has constantly been in news for caste based suspensions and transfers of government officials, paving the roads of state capital with expensive stones, for decorating parks with marble elephants and dotting UP with larger than life statues of herself. Added to the list are the Taj corridor case and the National Rural Health Mission Scam. How deep the coffers of BSP are, the recent deposits in the party accounts show clearly.

The Samajwadi Party during Mulayam Singh’s tenure was rife with lawlessness, crime, corruption and nepotism. Patronage is still bestowed on the Yadavs but Akhilesh has contributed much towards the development of the state than his father. The incumbent CM, Ahilesh Yadav is busy sanctioning project after project, with an eye on the upcoming polls. If figures are to go by, he might have succeeded in creating a record by inaugurating 5,500 projects in 6 hours!

Congress’s slogan for the 2017 Assembly Elections in UP, ‘27 saal UP behaal’ actually screams about the political environment in the state, the party being an equal contributor, no less.The Gandhi bastions in the state, Amethi and Rae Bareli, are examples of neglect and indifference of the most powerful political family in India.

The two constituencies should have been poster constituencies for Congress but the towns have hardly any applause worthy development since the party lost its footing in the state. While Rahul Gandhi attacks Narendra Modi’s “suit-boot waali sarkar” for being anti-farmer and pro-corporate, his constituency is counted as one of the poorest in the country with the per capita income of Rs. 15,559 as against the national average of Rs. 74,193 (2014-15 figures).

As the state readies itself for another test of loyalties in 2017, Mayawati is back to using her wining social engineering formula of Dalit-Brahmin combination sprinkled with a fair dose of promises for the Muslims, but then so are others.

BJP is casting a wider caste net over the region while SP, emerging from the famous family drama is back to courting the Yadavs and Muslims. In fact, the support of Muslim voters will be key to this election, for both SP and BSP.

The 2017 state elections are termed as the final chapter for Congress by many. But it would be wrong to write off the party completely from UP. At least till the results are declared. Keeping aside the minorities, both Congress and BJP have the same support base. If the demonetisation drive widens the distance between BJP and its supporters, the biggest gain would be for Congress.

Like a derelict ship, UP politics is trapped in high polarisation along the caste-community lines. Democracy is getting run over by politics of fear and politicians who believe that “might is right’. The highly volatile and potent mix of politics, religion, crime and lawlessness grips the state.