OVER the past few months, Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav has injected a new enthusiasm in the state’s electoral atmosphere. He has expelled many criminals from the party, fought off the family’s old guard, modelled himself as a modern, “development-oriented young man” in a state with deep caste fissures. All of this brought unprecedented focus of the media and political pundits on SP and its supposedly changing fortunes.
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Almost everyone in UP, across caste lines, agrees that Akhilesh Yadav has done a lot of “kaam (work)” in the state in the past couple of years. There are roads, more than 18 hours of electricity even in villages, and policing has become visible. The CM has checked most boxes that should get one the moniker of “Vikas Purush” in contemporary politics.
But is everyone with that opinion also voting for him?
The answer is: No.
In constituency after constituency The Indian Express
Many sing Akhilesh’s praise but they may not put their vote where their mouth is visited in Central UP, Bundelkhand and Faizabad-Ayodhya, those who rave about Akhilesh’s work and say they will vote for his Samajwadi Party are predominantly Yadavs and Muslims.
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Brahmins, Vaishyas, Thakurs, Rajputs, Shakya-Kushwahas, Koeris, Dhobis, Mallahs and even Jatavs, all may agree that Akhilesh has brought in development, that he is a “good man,” but that may not translate into a vote for Samajwadi Party. Instead, many of them say they will vote for the Samajwadi Party candidate only if they think he will deliver on local needs and expectations.
It is a nuanced difference but a vital one. In effect, it means that all Akhilesh has achieved after his very public spat with the party old guard, and rebranding himself, is to dent the anti-incumbency among his core voters. On the ground, there is little evidence to show that he has been able to swing the fence-sitters to his side in any significant way.
So a 26-year-old Ishan Bajpayee in Kanpur says he admires the work done by Akhilesh and is impressed by his dynamism. But the young hotel management graduate and cruise bike enthusiast doesn’t like the SP-BSP’s “consistent Muslim pitch.” He says he will vote for the BJP.
In a gathering at Mahoba town’s dhaba in Bundelkhand, Ashish Tiwari, 23, is all for SP and Akhilesh’s leadership. He says, “Of the 100 ponds in this region, 52 are in Mahoba. This is all because of Akhilesh. All the people are voting for him.”
Sitting near him is Jageshwar Chaurasia who says with a smirk: “Don’t ask him. He has coloured glasses on his eyes. He has recently got a laptop from Akhilesh.”
He adds that people in the constituency will vote on the basis of the candidate. “The BSP candidate has not worked for the people otherwise he would have been in a good position. There are a lot of Jatavs in this area. The fight is between SP and BJP.”
Bhagwandas Rajput, 60, from Panchpehra village in the constituency interjects and says that all non-Yadav OBCs are going with the BJP.
The only person supporting Tiwari’s narrative is Asif Ansari who says he was playing cricket in the region’s ponds until a few years before Akhilesh came and they are now filled with water.
At an Etawah tea shop, a Lodh Rajput voter says that it used to take more than three hours to reach Kanpur but now it takes just over two due to the roads built by Akhilesh. Jeetendra Yadav says that’s why all are voting for SP and despite the family feud the party will win. But when Yadav leaves, Rajput says that his community has decided to vote for the BJP.
A blacktop road now connects Jatavs in Naoli village and Kushwahas and Koeris in Adda with the main road. It has been built recently. But Jatavs say that they are going with Mayawati, for she gave them self-respect, while Koeris and Kushwahas say they will vote for SP as the local candidate “has been good” to them.
In Bareilly’s Khempura village, Mausam Khan is very happy with Akhilesh but will vote for BSP as the SP MLA in the constituency does not listen to the villagers. “You see, I can’t reach Akhilesh. It’s the local candidate who will get my work done.”
In Jhansi, Mohd Sadiq says, “Jitna kaam abhi hua utna to pehle kabhi nahi hua.” But he will vote for BSP as he feels the SP candidate is weak and voting for him will be a waste. “Whatever Muslim votes go to SP will be because of Akhilesh’s reputation,” he says.
One thing stark in these conversations is that people are voting for or against SP irrespective of their opinion of Akhilesh Yadav. It also exposes the limitation of the politics of development when politics is riven so deep by caste faultlines, where a road may be 1000 km long but if it doesn’t touch a village, it’s of no use to those who live there.
It also tells something about the politics of patronage perfected by political parties in states such as UP and Bihar. It is this that is pushing those out of favour towards other parties. Bhola Singh Rajput in Etawah says, “In this region, all contracts, employment and benefits go to Yadavs. Earlier, we had no option so we would keep voting for them. But now we see the BJP as a real challenger.”
Despite his best efforts, Akhilesh Yadav has not been able to shed the gunda tag off his party. It has sustained so long that it is seen as ingrained in the culture of the party which cannot be shed merely by pushing out certain infamous leaders.
“Wherever they are, they keep bullying others. Akhilesh is good and shows promise. But he is not here. He is in Lucknow while his partymen go on the rampage here. He can’t control every small local leader,” says Suraj Singh Rajput of Babina in Bundelkhand.
People in Banda point out the case of BSP’s Naseemuddin Siddiqui who everyone agrees has done the most for the town. Still, during the BSP’s best performance in 2007, the party lost the seat to Congress. It lost it again in 2012. “That was because his family members became local gundas in town and frittered away all the goodwill he had earned,” says Sachin Srivastav, a taxi driver in Banda.
In Bihar’s once greatly cynical politics, Lalu Yadav often said that his people had no use for development. His social engineering, personal charisma and politics of identity kept him in power for 15 long years. After Nitish Kumar replaced him, law and order was restored and roads were built after two decades in Bihar. Villages began to light up during the night, Patna got a new shine and it was safe to venture out. But after two terms, Bihar’s “Vikas Purush” had to hold Lalu’s hand to sail through in the polls.
Is Akhilesh facing the same despite combining the politics of Nitish and Jayalalithaa? An SP office bearer in Saifai told The Indian Express: “Akhilesh Bhaiya is here for the long haul. Even if we lose this election, we are going to be back soon. He is bringing in a new politics which is in tune with the times.” Whether that time is now is the question.