Depending on which groupie you speak to about the coming election to the Uttar Pradesh state assembly, there is every chance of you coming away convinced that either the Samajwadi Party (SP), Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), Congress or the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) will be able to form the government on its own or in tandem with the single largest party. Dubious opinion polls have only further complicated things.

File Photo. By Rajkumar

Conventionally, elections, particularly in UP, are often fought along the fault lines of caste or religion. The political combine that gets this right inevitably takes charge in Lucknow. And, this can be tough, not only given the myriad groupings, but also how they are playing off against each other.

This time, though, it may be different. Political parties will have to deal with three new imponderables; it will be the first time that this has come together in a constellation and can influence the final outcome.

They are the 3Ds: Delimitation, Demography and Development. All three, individually or in tandem, can throw the best scripted plans off kilter, including those orchestrated through quota politics, embracing the corrupt to target caste groupings, and choreographed Dalit culinary adventures.

The 3Ds have the potential to challenge the notion of homogeneous voting groups. In multi-cornered contests, these swing votes could decide victory or defeat. If indeed this holds true, it could redefine—through the message that the electorate is seeking a different kind of change—the destiny of India’s populous state (home to 200 million people), which is otherwise trapped in an equilibrium of the best of the worst. A watershed moment for UP, given its size, geographical location and diversity, can only mean good things for the entire country.

It is already on the cusp of breaking out of its laggard role. Suffice to say the state’s economy is precisely where the Indian economy found itself in the mid-1990s; there was hope, but not many bet that it would so dramatically be transformed as the next 10 years demonstrated. There has been a perceptible pick-up in the economy’s growth rate, almost double the so-called Hindu rate of growth that India was trapped in for decades.

According to the state’s Planning Commission data, the economy’s growth rate is up from 2.2% in 2000-01 to 7.2% in 2008-09. It further reveals that it has been led by construction activity. The good news is that it is ending up creating some valuable infrastructure (not to speak about firing up middle-class real estate dreams in places such as Noida); the bad news is that, since it is not led by manufacturing, job creation (emulating the national trend) has been insufficient to feed the growing aspirations of its populace—not the least by the demonstrative effect of the neighbouring state of Bihar.

This leads into the second of the 3Ds: Demography. Ever since Rajiv Gandhi lowered the voting age to 18 years, the addition of the youth to the national vote base has been rapidly expanding. This has accelerated in the last few years as the country’s demography has swung towards youth—60% of the population is estimated to be of less than 35 years of age.

One thing different about the youth of today and the preceding generation is aspiration. Most of them have known nothing but a healthy growth rate in the economy, which, in one of its avatars, manifests itself in a conspicuous consumer culture. The youth of UP are no different. The communal and caste divide is weaker for them and the ability of landing a job means far more; failure to do so will inevitably show up in anti-incumbency.

Finally, it may not have got so much of press as yet, but this will be the first assembly election that will be fought after delimitation—wherein the boundary of the political constituencies are rejigged taking into account the growth in population. This seriously alters status quo as politicians, especially incumbents, have to take into account new population segments that may or may not have the existing caste and religious configuration.

The Election Commission estimates that 163 out of the 403 constituencies—some 40%—have been affected. Not surprisingly, there are a large number of first-timers entering the electoral fray. According to India Today, the weekly news magazine, the count for first-timers is as follows: 90 for the BSP, 150 for the Congress and 50 for the SP. The new faces can’t win with a business-as-usual approach.

So the potential of 3Ds is evident. The big question is whether this will be realised and how they will play against conventional swing factors such as religion and caste. At the least, they have the power to roil electoral calculations. At the best, it will launch UP into the next stage and beyond.

Also Read |Anil Padmanabhan’s earlier articles

Anil Padmanabhan is a deputy managing editor of Mint andwrites every week on the intersection of politics and economics.

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