Cover Story
Uttar Pradesh: A Vote for Livelihood and Liberties
by Manoj Singh

The massive defeat of BJP in Uttar Pradesh in the Lok Sabha elections has triggered an analysis of the reasons behind its defeat but the actual reasons are consciously being glossed over. The electorate was pained by unemployment, price rise, Agnipath scheme, paper leaks, rural distress and threat to constitution and democracy. The SP-Congress alliance, the PDA experiment, isolation of BSP and other factors transformed people's resentment into an anti-government wave.

Even the most well-known political and exit poll analysts were caught unaware by the mood of the voters while the winds of change blowing from Ganga, Saryu, Ghagra and Gomti rivers were foretelling the impending change in fortunes. Sashi Shekhar Rai, a political analyst from Phephana Assembly segment had predicted on 28 May that Ballia braces itself for a change. The cold winds from the wetlands of Ganga would reach Delhi.

This prophecy came to be true. During the chilly month of January, when the nation was witnessing the grand inauguration of the Ram temple, the cacophony produced indicated that the election results in UP were already decided in favour of the party in power.

The celebration was also observed in Sohgi Barwa, situated near Narayani river at the Bihar- Nepal border, where there is no road accessibility till date. People have to walk four kilometres on sand to reach their homes. There was a mood of celebration there during the Ram temple inauguration but two months later, the same people put out banners in favour of election boycott till their demand for a bridge was not fulfilled.

I visited this village to prepare a write up and asked the people that on the day of voting, whom would they prefer - the Ram temple or demand for a bridge? After an initial silence, three to four people spoke in chorus- we will vote for our issues.

This reply was unexpected. After some days, banners sprung up in 26 villages announcing boycott of BJP. Land of these villages had been acquired for construction of a bypass road at a circle rate which was seven years old. Nobody paid any attention to their demand but during election time the administration intervened to have the banners removed. The police started reaching the houses of people who had put up the banners. They were even called to the police station and told that putting such posters was against the moral code of conduct. There were tears in the eyes of a young man who said that he had voted for BJP during the previous elections but this time we would use the power of vote to teach them a lesson.

Such voices could be heard even before the declaration of elections. During the first week of May, such dissenting voices could not be heard while commuting on train, bus, auto rickshaw or on foot. Be in Arrah and Chapra in Bihar or Deoria, Salempur, Basgoan, Ghosi, Ghazipur, Azamgarh, Lalganj, Basti, Sant Kabir Nagar, Maharajgunj or Kushinagar of Eastern Uttar Pradesh. Unemployment, paper leak, Agnipath, inflation, threat to constitution and democracy were the issues being discussed in tea stalls and kiosks. On the other hand, voices about Mandir, Modi, free rations remained muted. Even these people agreed that the Modi-Yogi government had failed on the issues of livelihood and price rise.

A labourer travelling from Arrah to Chapra was heard saying that the main issue was unemployment. Even a daily wage of Rs. 500 was falling short. Another vendor was heard saying that even Rs. 150 fell short to buy vegetables for two square meals. One trolley puller said that when so many big things are happening, why are we not getting employment? A woman vendor selling bananas on Gorakhpur - Nausar road lamented that we have no employment and even the road on which we sell our goods is being made out of bounds for us. Where shall we go?

Students suffering from paper leak were saying that we will teach them a lesson by our vote. A youth from Chauri Chaura area of Gorakhpur was heard saying that candidates appearing for competitive exams would teach BJP a lesson. Another said that only a fool would vote for BJP.

Devi Prasad Nishad who stays in Sanichara village of Sant Kabir Nagar was preparing for a religious ritual to worship his boat. Simultaneously, he was preparing a memorandum regarding the non construction of roads for the sitting BJP MP and candidate Praveen Nishad who was invited to attend his puja. He felt that there was no hope of getting a job in this regime. Even the elder Jhinku Nishad agreed with this view.

Ram Nakshatra Paswan of Chauri Chaura was a bit philosophical in his criticism. He said "All youth have become jobless in this government. No new vacancies have been created in the last ten years. Trees are planted to get shade. If the tree does not produce shade, it is better to chop it. You all are smart enough to understand what I mean ".

To enlist the support of first time voters, BJP-RSS leaders were invited to address students in universities and colleges. This however did not cut ice with those voters. A youth named Ranjit of Muhammadabad narrated his journey. He completed a degree from Mumbai in 2018 and was expecting a job in some polytechnic college. After remaining unemployed for six years, he started a soap agency. He lamented that the youth have lost hope in this government and want a change.

Such voices could be heard all the way up to Ayodhya. On the Ram path that leads to the Ram temple, Mauryaji has a shop that sells photos of the temple and other religious artwork. He was reluctant to talk when he came to know that I was a journalist. He said that nobody tells our real story. He said that a road had been constructed on his land and some land had been acquired for temple construction. He now pays 50 percent of his sales to the shop owner. He adds that destruction and not development has taken place. Kishore, who was selling goods nearby, had a similar story to tell. His vegetable shop was broken to widen the road and one lakh rupees was given as compensation. He has to pay Rs. 200 daily to use the footpath for vending. Another young shopkeeper told us that during the inauguration of the temple, we were locked in our houses while the VIPs had a tour of the city.

A new Ayodhya is being developed in Ayodhya. More than 3000 acres of land had been acquired for this purpose. Hundreds have lost their land and livelihood. When the woes of these displaced people were not heard by those who were 'bringing in Ram Lala', they tasted the bitter results in elections.

Even before the election results were announced, it was the talk of the town in Ayodhya that BJP would lose the elections. Along with Modi-Yogi, the residents were very angry with the sitting MP Lallu Singh for not standing with them.

The decision of BSP to distance itself from the national narrative and go solo in the elections proved self destructive. A large chunk of its social base voted for the India alliance as politics was polarised between the BJP and the alliance.

The dilemma of the Dalit voters was explained by Shiv Shankar Ram of village Bariya in Ballia. He said "We are confused. Dalits are thinking of ways and means to defeat the BJP. One option  is whether voting for BSP will defeat the BJP or whether voting for someone else will cause this to happen. One thing though is sure, our vote will determine the outcome of this election". The weakness of BSP in the elections had confused the Dalit voters. Some wanted to stay with BSP while others wanted to be part of the change.

The election results of Uttar Pradesh and the position of BSP clearly demonstrate that a large chunk of the core voters of BSP voted for the India alliance because they could feel the threat to the constitution made by Dr. Ambedkar. The Dalits and backward castes gradually got convinced that BJP wanted 400 seats so that it could change the constitution. Many BJP leaders including Lallu Singh, the candidate from Faizabad had made such statements. The India alliance had placed the issues of constitution and democracy in the forefront of their campaign. The Dalits, backwards and poor were convinced that even the basic rights of speech, franchise, equality and respect were given to them by the constitution. Hence they voted for the constitution against the BJP.

The autocratic and high handed behaviour of BJP was also building resentment among the people which finally exploded during the elections. In Uttar Pradesh, the bulldozer had been made synonymous with justice and law and order. The state officials at the behest of the government had become reckless. The right of people to protest had been severely curtailed. Dissenting voices on social media had been gagged. Many had to go to jail. Hence, at the opportune moment, they expressed their resentment through their vote.

During these elections, large fault lines appeared in the social engineering that BJP had developed since 2014. During the last ten years, the BJP has been successful in winning over a large section of the other backward castes over and above its upper caste social base. The former sections were not getting adequate political representation in SP, BSP or Congress. Within the BJP, these sections were getting frustrated to see that in spite of their votes, the BJP was not giving them requisite political representation. Also this time, the SP used the PDA formulation of backwards, Dalits and minorities very effectively by giving more tickets to them. As a result, the other backward classes moved from BJP towards SP.

Even the upper castes have voted for SP against BJP at different seats. The Sainthwar Mall Mahasabha wanted one ticket from among the eight seats of their influence. When BJP refused, they supported the SP candidates in Basti, Sant Kabir Nagar and Kushinagar. SP won the first two and put up a good fight in the last seat. Similarly, in Deoria, Salempur, Basgoan, Ballia and Ghosi seats, sections of upper caste voters voted in varying degrees for the India alliance.

Efforts to portray this decisive defeat as internal subversion and expression of anger against the sitting MPs is too superficial. A policeman returning from election duty commented that the crowds in the rallies of Akhilesh and Rahul are spontaneous while that in the rallies of Modi and Shah were orchestrated.

Experts sitting in state capitals who have little connect with the pulse of the masses were calling these elections as very silent and comfortable for BJP. Time took a heavy toll of such prophecies.

A Vote for Livelihood and Liberties