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Development, Not Caste, Will Be Crucial Agenda in UP Elections

Akhilesh Yadav’s development initiatives could give him an edge, anti-incumbency notwithstanding, while Narendra Modi’s development agenda retains some aura despite the demonetisation debacle.

Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh Akhilesh Yadav with Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Credit:PTI

Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh Akhilesh Yadav with Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Credit:PTI

Narendra Modi represents aspirations, as does Akhilesh Yadav; Modi preaches politics of development, as does Yadav; Modi carries an appeal for the youth, as does Yadav; Modi is Machiavellian enough to silently appeal and reach out to caste and communities still ensuring no disruption to his development and progressive persona, as is Yadav. This makes election 2017 completely different from the elections of the past..

Analysis of these elections is intriguing and at the same time very interesting. The basics suggest that in 2007 the vote difference between the Samajwadi Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party was around 4%, ensuring absolute majority for BSP. A mere swing of around 2.5% in 2012 brought BSP to 80 seats and SP to 224 seats. This election too could have seen a similar fate with anti-incumbency scripting a 2.5-3% swing changing the fortunes completely. However, this looks unlikely. Firstly, the family feud in the Samajwadi Party transformed the ruler, the chief minister Yadav, into the challenger. This may have significantly neutralised anti-incumbency. The scars of the feud will still hurt in some constituencies and this may negate the neutralisation of anti-incumbency to some extent, at least in some pockets. Secondly, the 2014 general election was the Congress’s worst performance, with it securing only around 8% of the vote. If the significant part of this share remains with the alliance, it has the potential of overcompensating the fall that may happen because of anti-incumbency. Also there are 41 constituencies where the winning margin is just a few thousand (in some as low as 18 votes). The alliance has the potential of shifting a good number of these seats to the SP-Congress combine. These plusses and minuses taken together may give the SP-Congress alliance an edge, but only a thin one.

Interestingly, the election outcome significantly hinges on development. It needs be noted that in the last elections (2012) the floating vote – the vote which is not committed around caste, religion and the like – was projected at around 7-8%. This may have gone up significantly in 2017. The truth remains that in a state where a 2.5% vote swing determines the election outcome, a 17% floating vote could potentially be ‘the determinant’ of election 2017. This critical group is the one that is apparently seeking development and this is where Modi’s ascendance of 2014 has been seriously challenged by Yadav in 2017.

Yadav has some substance to back his tag line “kaam bolta hai”. Lucknow Metro stands as a world record in terms of completion efficiency; Agra Expressway is another example of exceptional efficiency. Land acquisition at four times the circle rate and subsequent ten times real estate price escalation has transformed life of millions along the expressway. The new income, production and employment opportunities, including those in logistics lines, have already started transforming the region. Retrieval of irrigation capacities of old canal systems, where almost 70% capacity was blunted because of silting is life transforming. Around 14 lac hectares worth of irrigation capacity has been reclaimed from Saryu canal system in eastern UP alone. Similar interventions are visible in Bundelkhand and other parts as well; 50 district headquarters have already been connected with four lane roads; electricity availability has significantly improved over the last few years; the pension schemes like Samajwadi pensions have touched over 56 lac families; ambulance services are no less impactful.

All this has catapulted Yadav to become a leader of substance who can challenge Modi one on one. Yadav’s development initiatives have the potential of giving him an edge. On the one hand, although the faith in Modi’s development magic is dented in the aftermath of demonetisation, it is still not completely gone. Yadav’s emergence as a progressive development-oriented leader who has something to show on the ground has ensured that development is central as a significant electoral agenda. If Yadav wrests Uttar Pradesh again, it will be the harbinger of change and will have significant implications for national politics as well.

Arvind Mohan is Professor of Economics and Director Institute of Management Sciences University of Lucknow