There has been hardly any time to absorb the results of the elections of 2016 but next year’s elections already loom large. None larger than UP, with 403 Assembly seats and 80 parliamentary seats. Along with Bihar, it can dominate national politics. Indeed, while Congress controlled those two states, it ruled the country.
But Congress also kept the two largest states backward. If casteism is still the coin of politics in UP and Bihar, it is because they have missed out on the dynamism of other states such as Punjab or Tamil Nadu or Maharashtra. When Congress ceded power to other parties, they reinforced the backwardness of UP. Bihar was lucky to have nearly ten years of NDA rule. Now it has gone back to old-style casteist politics. Neither BJP nor SP nor the BSP, as they took turns to rule UP, tackled any of its problems. Of the four BIMARU states, only UP remains undeveloped.
It remains a communal tinderbox, be it Muzaffarnagar, Dadri or Azamgarh. Thousands leave the state to make a decent living. The crime situation is terrible. Indeed if UP and Bihar were to catch up with the average per capita income of the country, India could rise several notches in income ranking in the world.
The upcoming elections do not inspire much hope. BJP is projecting itself as the likely winner thanks to its large haul of 71 out of 80 in 2014. But voters think and vote differently for national and state elections. Bihar and Delhi should have driven that lesson home. Like every other party, BJP is working out the kaleidoscope of castes and communities to find the effective combination. No party aspires to radically transform UP, modernise its social structures or promise to bring it up to the average. Each wants power for its own sake.
Since no new ideas or policies will be proposed (or in case they are proposed, they won’t be implemented), one has to be cynical about spotting the likely winners. It will be a three-cornered contest between SP, BSP and BJP. Congress will try but fail as will the JD(U) in its expanded form.
As there are no real differences between these parties, personalities and caste images will dominate. If one had to predict, the answer will be no single party with a majority. But as between the three main contenders, two will have to form a coalition to get a majority. For the last few elections, SP and BSP have alternated. BJP hopes to make a big mark. It will be a good third party. The betting then would be which of the other two will make a coalition with BJP.
It is a sad situation that nothing more can be expected out of the process. Indian politics has failed UP. It has been misgoverned by all its various ruling parties. It is too large. It should be split up as has been suggested since the State Reorganisation Commission Report in 1955. But Uttarakhand apart, no region has been given a separate identity. Bundelkhand or Purvanchal may thrive like Chhattisgarh has. Why not?
But the allure of those eighty seats at one go is the undoing of UP. Who would give up such a prize merely for better governance?