Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Changing Of The Guard in UP

On 6 March 2012 results for the assembly elections of Uttar Pradesh (UP) were declared. I was camping in Varansi to do a reaction story.
Filed two stories:

Here are some observations
Varanasi is agog with expectation. Not so much in anticipation of the Assembly results that will decide the fate of Mayawati, the despotic, Dalit, woman chief minister of UP—a province with a population of 200 million.
Self proclaimed political commentators throng the Pappu Tea Shop near Assi Ghat early in the morning to do an in house analysis of election results. This is the Mecca of political discourse (read argument) of the town. Local party leaders and workers; traders, academicians and journalist, all gather to air their views, forcefully, on the current political situation over a cup of tea (is made like filter coffee) and samosa.
A television mounted on the wall at the far end of a smaller rectangular room that display latest trends with the volume set on mute.
People here do not trust the studio analysis of elections. The outcome of an election depends on the complex play of national and local issues. These articulate, armchair political commentators who appear on national news channels have little knowledge of local issues that are of great importance, especially for assembly elections. The studio discussions play and over play vested interests. It is just of a propaganda value.

Rahul Gandhi and Akhilesh Yadav
Rahul Gandhi was projected as some one on the verge of orchestrating a silent revolution. He would change the way politics is practiced in this most populous state of India.
The elections results turned out to be a reality check for him.
According to the media: Rahul is a messiah of poor who visit the poorest of poor, a dalit household, in the remotest part of the state, more frequently closer to the elections, have meal with them, is dor sure going to get a simple majority for the Congress party.
Akhilesh Yadav on the other hand (now the chief minister) was ignored by the media. It turned out to be a blessing in disguise for him. He did what Rahul was expected to do: turn the course of elections and get his party a sweeping victory.
Both Rahul and Akhilesh were instrumental in drawing large number of voters, especially youth and women (the two categories are overlapping…there were many young women who turned out to vote).
Akhilesh, in addition, gave the new voters reasons to support his party (Samajwadi Party or SP) by promising many expensive and extensive direct policy interventions that will impact their lives in quick time. These promises were, it goes without saving, highly populist in nature.
Rahul on the other hand was busy faultfinding of all other political outfits. His message was clear that Mayawati and the rest are corrupt barring his own party, Congress. That was such a hypocritical idea to sell based on the presumption that the people of UP are a big fool. They did not turn out to be as big fools as Rahul would have liked them to be.
Dr Saroj Yadav a poet and writer summed up cause of Rahul’s failure rather well. He said, “apake apney daat gandey they magar chaurahe par majan bechney nikal pare (your own teeth were dirty and yet you set out to sell toothpaste),” referring to Rahul Gandhi.

On November 1, 2011, Rahul Gandhi visited Ravi Das Temple of Govardhanpur village in Varanasi to start his campaign. He stayed there for half an hour, was very friendly to all. He had chapattis, vegetable with lemon pickle for the breakfast.
The idea of this visit was to make a dent at Mayawati’s Dalit vote bank.  Mayawati has visited this temple twice in the past on the invitation of Mahant (head priest) Mandeep Das. But Rahul Gandhi’s visit was unscheduled. “It was not a political visit,” clarifies Mandeep Das who gladly adds, “he started his political campaign from here.” 
Rahul is played a key role in Mayawati’s defeat. Akhilesh is responsible for SP’s victory.
Anna Hazare’s campaign was discussed as another significant factor for Congress’s poor show not only in UP but also in Punjab.A retired teacher, Din Bhandhu Tiwari, asserted that the strategy of garnering Muslim votes by promising job quota to them backfired for Congress. It alienated sizable upper caste Hindus, like him, who were disillusioned with BJP and Mayawati alike and wanted to vote for Congress.
Even the most ardent opponents of Mayawati credit her for ending the goonda raj in UP as much as she failed to contain price rise. It is safe to crack this joke in public now that Mayawati is out of power.
The joke is (not many think it is a joke) that UP under Mayawati had only one mafia, she herself. In the past SP’s regimes there was a flourishing goonda (goons) raj.  In Mayawati’s tenure it became the police raj. Traders prefer the latter.  

Muslims are predictably happy with the verdict. A tea shop at Madanpura locality is thronged with elderly Muslim traders and artisans all dressed in white. They rejoice SP’s victory. Tea with a thick layer of cream floating on it is being served. 
They are not dismissive of Mayawati, acknowledge that some development work did take place in her tenure. 
The reason of her debacle, though, according to them, is that her attention got diverted to setting up parks and erecting statues in later part of her tenure. Only certain Brahmins made pots of money, not Dalit, is the perception  Muslims hold in Varanasi.
Banarasi saree industry that employs about 50,000 Muslim families in Varanasi alone. It is in dire straits because the price hike of the raw materials. One kilogram of silk now costs Rs 3,000, twice as much as it was a couple of years ago.
Abdul Majid is a 72 years old weaver. His family is in this profession for generations. He is hopeful that the new SP government will support the traditional handicrafts, saree, brassware and small scale manufacturing units in the city.
Pramod Maji has four boats and is an ardent supporter of Congress party. He dabbled with the SP camp for ten days before he joined the Congress party. It was a big mistake, he now repents in leisure. It is important, according to him, to have political affiliations. It might bring little benefit but prevents lot of harassment from the hands of government functionaries. 
He makes a strong case: population is the root cause of inflation. The logic: the population has skyrocketed while the food production has not kept pace with it, so the prices are bound to rise.
Abdul Majid-- has 17 children from two wives, youngest boy is only 6 years old---does not agree with Maji that population growth is essentially inflationary. “More children means more helping hands,” Majid explains. It means more votes as well. “vo to hai (that is true),” he smiles.

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