Uttar Pradesh is undergoing rapid economic and social changes, the people’s concerns and demands have changed, but the political class plays the game in the old way. This is the most visible fault-line in the state, this disconnect between the people and the politicians. Surprisingly, much of the social and economic changes have come about because the government is willy-nilly responding to the challenge by facilitating the building of roads — the demand is for more — and the setting up of private schools and colleges and allowing the mushrooming of marketplaces, including big malls and roadside stalls. More girls are cycling to school in towns and villages, and these small shifts will show up in the new hues in the big picture. It is easier for people to travel, and there is a movement out of the smaller places as well as the world being brought into the small places through the communication network. There is an urban revolution underway in UP.
The second fault line following from the first is that the intelligentsia, along with politicians, is caught up in the ideological warp, which sounds intense, frenzied and ominous — whether it is of the secular liberals, the Hindutva brigade or the tiny section of Muslim religious conservatives. The ideological debate is indeed loud but it does not reflect the mood in the marketplace. The third fault line is that election is not the predominant preoccupation of the ordinary people. Political rallies and intense media coverage might suggest that UP is doing nothing else but weighing the many electoral alternatives that they are faced with. The large state that it is, the election excitement in one part of the state leaves the other part cold and uninterested. The response of many people is that there is enough time to make up their mind, and that they would do so a little before or on the polling day. Politicians seem to fear this silence of the voter, who is not willing to disclose his preference in any way. Political parties are more than a little unnerved by the still waters running deep phenomenon.
The national media is paying more attention to UP than it had in recent elections because after a long time a declared prime ministerial candidate, BJP’s Narendra Modi, is fighting from Varanasi, and this opens up the possibility of UP once again being represented by a man elected from the state. The last time a prime minister got elected was BJP’s Atal Bihari Vajpayee in 1999. The people of the state are not particularly excited by the prospect of UP being the prime state through a prime minister, except in Varanasi itself. The question that political pundits want to speculate is whether in its desire to have a Prime Minister from the state, the people of UP will vote overwhelmingly for the BJP. This is not really the case. Even political workers accept that UP is a tough battleground and what holds good in one constituency does not hold true for another. This leaves UP a political puzzle till the counting day, and even then retrospective interpretations will have to be read into the UP verdict. As people in Lucknow and Faizabad, Kanpur and Amethi go about their daily tasks, it is the political parties and media which get into a tizzy reading the minds of UP-wallah. UP is in the fast lane of change and politicians will have to work harder than ever to keep up with the people here.