Qayam rahe Mulayam (May Uttar Pradesh chief minister Mulayam Singh Yadav stay in power)! Ruling Samajwadi Party is going into the seven-phase state polls, beginning 7 April, with this slogan.
General secretary Amar Singh is banking on the “economic turnaround” to see the party through and hopes the party’s recent turmoil, over disqualification of 13 Bahujan Samaj Party rebel MLAs who helped form the government and the Supreme Court’s go- ahead for CBI probe into the chief minister’s assets, will be glossed over in the glow of development.
Interestingly, his political opponents are also hoping economic development will become an election issue in the state sharply divided along caste and community lines as they believe that it would hurt the ruling party.
“We have turned UP into an uttam pradesh (best province) and achieved a revenue surplus for the first time in two decades,” claims Singh.
Bharatiya Janata Party’s vice-president Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi dismisses the feel-good data as ‘farzi aankde (imaginary numbers)’.
To be sure, the data shows the government in a complimentary light. The revenue deficit progressively dipped from Rs18,583 crore in 2003-04 to Rs6,993 crore in 2004-05 to Rs1,268 crore in 2005-06. According to the revised estimates for the current fiscal, the state is expected to have a surplus of Rs3,359 crore.
Tax revenue has shot up from Rs13,601 crore in 2003-04 to Rs18,858 crore in 2005-06, and it is projected to rise to Rs24,381 crore in the current fiscal. Plan outlay has risen from Rs7,250 crore in 2002-03 to Rs13,500 crore in 2005-06 and Rs19,000 crore in the current fiscal.
As the chief minister seldom tires of pointing out, the rate of growth of the gross state domestic product (GSDP) was a mere 0.1% when he assumed power in August 2003, and is now projected at 6.2% for 2005-06.
Not all parties accuse the SP of doctoring economic data. Salman Khurshid, president of the state unit of Congress party, “There is little to celebrate when you consider the state of farmers, irrigation, fixing of support prices, acquisition of land, public distribution system, education, health, social justice, to say nothing of crime.”
Hope as he might for an undercurrent of economic discontent among voters, Khurshid says he dare not factor it into his plans. “How do you address modern tribalism with an agenda for development. By modern tribalism, I mean poor people voting solely on the basis of caste, simply because that’s the only thing they can afford to identify with.”
The Planning Commission’s recently-published ‘Uttar Pradesh Development Report’ reports that the state has fared badly when compared to the national average.
During 2002-03, the per capita real income in the state was 47.7% less than the all-India average, much worse than 17.2% less than the all-India average in 1980-81. More recent data is not available. The debt owed by the state government has risen from Rs72,766 crore in 2001-02 to a projected Rs1.38 lakh crore in the current fiscal.
Political analyst Mahesh Rangarajan says the SP government cannot be dismissed on economic grounds. “When growth rate rises, so do expectations and aspirations,” he says. “That is why, N.D. Tiwari can lose despite significant development for parts of Uttarakhand. The same goes for Amarinder Singh in Punjab. And so did Rajiv Gandhi on the back of the highest GDP growth, in 1988-89.”
Rangarajan says Yadav’s chief success has been in facilitating 29 new sugar mills, merchandise exports, flour mills, while power has been his biggest failure, along with roads.
Uttar Pradesh is, of course, much bigger a state than Punjab or Uttarakhand, which split from UP in 2000. Most observers say that while the relatively prosperous western UP can reap benefits of growth, eastern UP and, especially, Bundelkhand, ravaged by drought over the past five years, have been largely ignored by the current regime.
Mayawati-led BSP hopes to turn such areas of discontent into happy vote-hunting grounds. The party’s national spokesperson, Sudhir Goyal, says even in western UP, local mafias run riot, with rampant crime taking the sheen off any claims of growth.
“You don’t need statistics to see how hollow the claims are,” says Goyal. “Just take a trip down to the government hospital in Ghaziabad or Muzaffarnagar. As you enter UP, you will find there is a dearth of even basic amenities like water, power, education and healthcare.”
No wonder then, he says, national economic debates, over special economic zones for instance, fail to stir voters in UP. Promises of basic amenities stand a better chance of connecting with the masses.
The situation may not change in a hurry as most players predict a fractured verdict yet again, as has happened ever since early 1990s. Khurshid predicts that no party will get more than 130 seats in the 403-seat state assembly. Hence the scramble for forming suitable coalitions.