Why the voter is the donkey in Uttar Pradesh Assembly elections

Swati Chaturvedi
Swati ChaturvediFeb 21, 2017 | 15:39

Why the voter is the donkey in Uttar Pradesh Assembly elections

"Khokhli bateein hai aur galiyan hai. Kitna gir gaya hai UP ka star (hollow slogans and abuse, how low has UP's standard dropped)," says an old man sadly in Lucknow.

His anguish at the state of his state and politicians whizzing around in filmstar-type vans and helicopters sums up the state of play at the half-way mark in the country's most critical state Assembly election.


All parties in the fray lack a narrative they can tell the impatient UP voter, who wants to catch up with the rest of the country and feels let down.

The voters laugh at CM Akhilesh Yadav's "kaam bolta hai", asking mockingly for the "kaam" which is missing in action. Rahul Gandhi, his alliance partner, barely even evokes a yawn. Priyanka Gandhi has sensibly stayed out of the fray as she seems to have zero traction among the huge number of young voters.

Despite the surging crowds mostly mobilised via Amit Shah's formidable and hugely financed election machine, PM Narendra Modi and his speeches evoke the maximum derision. Every time he stoops to conquer with yet another unsavoury jibe or a dog whistle, the UP voter is upset.

After the infamous "Diwali-Ramzan" jibe, a professor from Lucknow University changed his mind about voting for the BJP, saying "Modi has lowered the stature of the PM. Kahan Atalji aur kahan yeh janaab (look at Atalji's stature and look at Modi)".

Says a BJP leader: "We don't need Adityanath anymore, Modi is doing the same job."

Modi's dog whistle is perhaps driven by desperation. Lacking any issue in a seemingly issueless election, all parties have gone back to the basics. BJP first tried with the surgical strikes in Uri with posters of the Army and Modi plastered all over. That was met with resounding indifference. Then came the "surgical strike against black money", as demonetisation was presented by Shah.

Says a BJP leader: "We don't need Adityanath anymore, Modi is doing the same job." (Photo: Reuters)

Angry voters suffering in queues made the BJP quickly change the story. Cashless and digital India finds little resonance in a state which barely gets two hours of electricity and has around 80 per cent of the population unbanked.

Angry Jats have vowed to teach the BJP a lesson, blaming the party for the flop of the rabi-sowing season and the lack of promised reservation. Says one khap leader Samay Singh: "BJP ka hookah paani band karvaegein. Is bar vote bhi cashless dengey, (we have broken ties with the BJP. This time our vote for them will also be cashless)."

Though the BJP is projecting confidence and saying it has done well in the phases held so far, Modi's return to dog whistle basics sans any talk of vikas (development) indicates growing nervousness. Shah still has 15 more mega rallies planned for Modi but, in an almost Bihar redux, the crowd response is missing.

Unlike Bihar, the alliance "Bahari" slogan is a flop. UP is not a parochial state and the "apney ladke" makes people chortle. The average age of the UP voter is under 30. To see over 40 men like Yadav and Gandhi described as "ladke" has takers only in the adoring cadres.


Mayawati is the only leader trying to tell her story of law and order and with her 100-plus Muslims in the fray, she is hoping to replace Mulayam Singh Yadav as the new Muslim messiah. To further this, she has taken two public vows repeatedly at every meeting. That she will never construct a single statue dedicated to herself again. And that she will never ally with the BJP again.

Mayawati has vowed she will never construct a single statue of herself and that she will never ally with the BJP again.

Mayawati is at least trying to campaign on her record, patchy though it is. This time around, in a first for UP, women leaders have come into their own. Dimple Yadav is the new star on the "pracharak" horizon.

She is giving Akhilesh a run for his money and is a huge hit with the crowds, with most SP and Congress candidates asking for "Bhabi" to come and campaign for them. Each time she refers to Modi and says "mere angney main tumahara kya kaam hai," the crowds roar.

The other woman leader who has made a quiet comeback despite Shah's evident opposition is Smriti Irani, who is back in favour and taking potshots at the Gandhi family.

At this juncture it's still an election anyone can win. Which is truly sad as all talk of development has been shelved and caste and religion rule. As a voter who has already cast his vote says: "The leaders talk of donkeys but the real donkey in UP is the voter. We carry the burden of this useless politics."

Last updated: February 21, 2017 | 15:39
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