Rae Bareli/Lucknow: Mohammed Bilal Ansari, a 20-year-old weaver in Varanasi, is indifferent both to poll promises by political parties and corruption scandals that have been highlighted by some candidates in the Uttar Pradesh state elections to undermine their opponents.
Ansari, of course, knows about the alleged irregularities in the allocation of the 2G (second-generation) telecom spectrum at the Centre, but he would rather hear how wages can be improved, regular water and electricity supplies delivered, usable roads built, a 24-hour hospital opened, and how he can send his younger brother to a better school.
Ground realities: Mohammed Bilal Ansari, a 20-year-old weaver in Varanasi
“Everybody makes money,” he says. “Who cares about us?”
His cynicism doesn’t stretch to the ballot. “Why would I waste my vote?” says Ansari, who will make his choice in the fourth phase of the elections on 19 February. “I will vote for he who wins,” Ansari says with a broad smile but won’t say more.
Prithvi Pal lives in Rae Bareli’s Barkapur neighbourhood, a Dalit area with about 4,000 families from the Jatav and Pasi communities. He explains the logic of voting for a candidate who is likely to win.
“We need somebody we can approach, who can do something for us and somebody who has done something in the past,” he says.
Barkapur is a part of Congress party president Sonia Gandhi’s Rae Bareli Lok Sabha constituency, but it lacks even basic amenities, says Pal.
National, state and local issues have all dovetailed in the campaign for the Uttar Pradesh assembly elections, in which the ruling Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) has to overcome the so-called anti-incumbency factor because of a perceived governance deficit, while the Congress party that leads the coalition controlling the Centre has been tarred by corruption charges and is sought to be held accountable for failing to control inflation, especially a rise in the price of urea that has hurt farmers.
“It is the central government’s responsibility to make urea available at a reasonable price and right quantity,” says Pal. “I have been standing since yesterday midnight and I could not get it. On the one hand, inflation is shooting up, on the other, prices for our produce are going down. Farmers have no future.”
A family from an Ambedkar village - set up under a flagship programme of the Mayawati-led BSP government—in Pratapgarh
Pal is clear about who he will vote for. Akhilesh Singh, a Peace Party candidate who was earlier a Congress legislator, is his choice. “He helps us when we need him. At least he visits us sometimes.”
Road construction work in progress in Amethi
Rahul Gandhi is leading the Congress’ campaign in the state, attempting to revive the fortunes of a party that has been out of power in India’s most populous state since 1989.
In 2009, Anu Tandon, a corporate executive-turned-politician, was one of the 22 Congress candidates elected to the Lok Sabha from Uttar Pradesh, which sends 80 members to the Lower House. Tandon won from Unnao.
Priyanka Gandhi at a rally in Rae Bareli
Keval Khushwaha, a street vendor in Unnao, says he voted for Tandon in 2009. “She has done precious little. I voted for her because I was carried away by her promises. You show me one stone in Unnao where her name is there.”
Satish Chandra Mishra, general secretary, BSP, addressing a rally at Unnao on 7 February
Like Ansari, Khushwaha is certain he will vote. “How can I waste my vote? I have not decided on who to vote for but I have time. I will see who is doing well.”
Photographs by Pradeep Gaur/Mint