Assembly election 2022: Lessons from the ground

The frenetic activity around the Uttar Pradesh (UP) elections has subsided. However, there are many instructive lessons I learned during my travels in UP and Uttarakhand this election season.

The pandemic has broken the backbone of the Indian economy. Economists are divided on how and when the economy will recover. However, most people are getting back on track much quicker than expected. The government has given them sufficient quantities of free food grains. That has proved a major balm for people who now do not have to fear hunger.

I asked people in these states whether they thought they would continue to get free grain for all time to come. The answer to my question from most people was that they were aware that this was not an endless gift. Most of them know that the scheme could well end after the elections but they are not too worried about this. A Dalit woman in Mathura told me that if they kept getting everything for free, their children would become lazy — wise words from a self-respecting woman.

I began my travels thinking that the pandemic must have eroded the morale of our youth. All reports suggest a huge loss in job opportunities. The biggest setback has been suffered by small and medium industries. These, along with the unorganised and informal sectors, account for more than 90% of all job opportunities. But despite the dire predictions of economists, the youth in villages and small towns are not overly pessimistic. They feel that the country is progressing and that this will open new doors for them.

But, this is not to paint a rosy picture of things. The youth are worried about the fact that there are no openings for government jobs. A job in the Indian Army, police and paramilitary is a status symbol in rural India, but in large parts of these states and indeed other rural areas, the youth feel the government is doing little to facilitate access to jobs in the forces. In many political rallies and meetings, the youth have been vocal in demanding recruitment to jobs in these sectors.

The government has been stressing on the need for innovation and self-employment. Such efforts have to be accelerated, otherwise it will be difficult to stop large-scale migration of people from villages. Such internal migration puts undue pressure on the already shambolic infrastructure in our cities even as our villages are losing manpower.

I learned that a large number of voters want their leaders to exercise restraint in their language. They felt that if political leaders directed their energies to helping people rather than abuse opponents, things would change for the better. In most places, people were dissatisfied with their elected representatives, whom they feel not raising their concerns at the state and national level. They were, however, happy with the big leaders of the party of their choice.

A Member of the Legislative Assembly (MLA) told me that while he worked diligently to get votes, he did not get any recognition for this. Instead, the so-called big leaders got all the accolades. The ministers and chief ministers are chosen by the high command so they devote their time to keep the powers that be happy and carry out their agendas. He also said that the bureaucrats don’t listen to the MLAs as the latter have no role to play in their postings and transfers.

Can such representatives effectively address the concerns of the people? If the latest Association for Democratic Reforms report is anything to go by, in the current assembly elections in UP, as many as 4,442 people entered the electoral arena. Out of these, there are serious criminal cases against 1,142 candidates. The following figures will give us a clear picture. This time, the number of candidates with criminal charges from the Bharatiya Janata Party is 169; for the Samajwadi Party it is 224, for the Bahujan Samaj Party it is 153, for Congress 160 and for Rashtriya Lok Dal 18. Some are facing charges of murder, rape and kidnapping. With each election, this number of tainted candidates is increasing.

There is a saying that in a democracy, people get the leaders they deserve. Are we really deserving only of criminals? From these figures, it is easy to understand why there has been a sharp deterioration in the language and culture of politics.

In the last UP assembly, there were 322 (or 80% of the MLAs) who were crorepatis. Their average income was estimated at 5.92 crore. Against this, in 2017-18, the per capita income in UP was 48,520; it is now 74,480. The income of the ordinary citizen does not increase anywhere near as sharply as that of the elected representatives. This begs the question, are those elected for the people or for their own selfish interests? The answer is clear from the figures.

Shashi Shekhar is editor-in-chief, Hindustan The views expressed are personal

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