By Ashutosh Pandey:
Much has been said by political parties and poll pundits about the high voter turnout in the three phases of ongoing Uttar Pradesh assembly elections. While every political party is busy claiming the unusually high numbers in its favor, poll pundits are exploiting their minds so as to understand the reasons behind the phenomenon, if one may call it. However, both pundits and political parties are missing one vital point in this regard and that is, the times are changing.
Yes, it is the sign of the changing times and nothing more. It is neither a vote against the present Government nor in favor of any particular party. Moreover, the ground reality here is that the election is being contested on the same grounds that it used to be fought in earlier times.
The issues are the same — caste, religion, and muscle power. If anyone has any doubt in this regard, he/she needs to look at the candidates fielded by different political parties. For instance, much hue and cry was, and still is being raised on the infamous NRHM scam. But, at the same time, the minister under whom the scam took place was gleefully accepted by the BJP, after he was expelled from the ruling BSP. All political parties attacked BJP for this, but the party did not budge from its stand, and today, Babu Singh Kushwaha is very much canvassing for BJP in different parts of the state.
The question is, why did the BJP not disown Kushwaha in spite of risking its fight against corruption against the Congress Government at the centre? The answer is simple, the party knew that corruption would not be the central issue in the U.P. elections, instead it will be the caste factor that will be dominant. So, if any analyst or journalist sitting in the studios in Delhi feels that U.P. voter has suddenly changed, he/she will be proved wrong on March 6, when the results are announced.
Even Congress, that claims to change Uttar Pradesh for better, has fielded a candidate who was expelled by the BSP on charges of corruption. The candidate from Bilaspur in Pilibhit, Mr. Anees Ahmed Khan (phool babu) was a minster in the BSP government before he was expelled by Mayawati. Why has the party, that is banking on providing clean and corruption-free government, given a ticket to a tainted minister? Again, the answer is same, because the constituency has a large chunk of Muslim votes that might help the candidate win. This is the ground reality of elections in Uttar Pradesh.
If the national parties such as BJP and Congress are banking on caste and muscle power to win the seats, can smaller parties be left behind? Peace Party has fielded Jitendra Singh Babloo from Faizabad. Babloo has a plethora of criminal cases against him, one of which is burning the house of Rita Bahuguna Joshi, the state president of the Congress. There are a plenty of such candidates, if one goes through the entire list of candidates fielded by all parties. Moreover, Sam Pitroda said in a rally that he is the son of a carpenter. All this for a few votes of backwards.
The point here is that the ground reality has not changed in Uttar Pradesh. The elections have always been fought on caste and religion in the past, and this time too, the situation is not any different. So, people who are pinning their hopes on high voter turnout for a drastic change are bound to be disappointed in a big way.
The unprecedented voting has other reasons behind it. First, it can be safely said that television has influenced people in a big way. All the appeals on TV by different media groups and the election commission to caste the vote made a huge difference. For the first time, people realized that voting is the in-thing. Further, when they saw celebrities showing their inked finger on television, people were convinced that voting can be glamorous as well.
The credit for huge polling can also be given to smaller parties and independent candidates. Smaller parties like Peace Party, Rashtriya Ulema Council, Lokmanch and more like them have done a great job in this regard. These parties fielded candidates who were from within the common people, and they knew that they would have to work hard so as to get votes and get noticed. Hence, they canvassed heavily by going house to house and urged voters to vote for them.
These candidates, on the polling day, escorted people to polling booths, thus, increasing the overall voting percentage. This was the turning point. The state will witness an even higher percentage in phases to come. So, there is nothing to be surprised of. People who know Uttar Pradesh are not.
Then, the high voting percentage in Punjab (77%) and Uttarkhand also prompted voters in U.P. to come out and vote so as not to be left behind.
The point that everybody seems to miss is the voting in urban areas has not gone up much. The rural voters voted much better than their urban counterparts. However, do not expect a miracle owing to the large polling percentage. The results would be same as they would have been in a low turnout.
Ashutosh Pandey is a Freelance Political Analyst.