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The din around the Uttar Pradesh elections is ongoing. But does poll-time furore wither away after a while? No, every election has its own story. I want to share some of my encounters with the inner layers of Indian democracy while travelling across different areas of Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand.

Covid has broken the backbone of the Indian economy and economists are divided over when it will recover. However, the people on the street have already returned to normal life, much more quickly than expected. Sufficient foodgrain and other help provided by the government instilled confidence in them that, no matter what, they will not die of hunger. It is assumed that if Indians had enough food, they could accomplish anything. And the two states in the Hindi belt are ready to contribute with full vigour.

When I asked them whether they expected to get free grains for the rest of their lives, the answer was: “We know it cannot happen." Most were apprehensive that the scheme might end after the elections, but they were not intimidated by it. In fact, a Dalit woman from Mathura said if everything was given for ‘free’, then the children would become lazy--the self-respect of the common Indian.

I thought the pandemic would have broken the morale of our youth. Reports suggest a big downside in job opportunities, with small and medium enterprises (SMEs) being hit the hardest. SMEs, along with the informal sector, account for more than 90% of all jobs in India.When small businesses are in trouble, how can unemployment be controlled? Such a situation can make economists feel helpless, but the youth in small towns and villages and are hopeful. They think India is progressing and will open new doors. They are not wrong as they draw their strength from the soil.

But do not assume that everything is hunky-dory. Some helplessness prevails as the government is not recruiting. Working for the army, police and paramilitary forces is considered a status symbol in rural India, where a large segment are growing more and more despondent for the lack of government jobs, and the youth openly demanded government jobs at public meetings by ministers, .

To address their concerns, the government is focussing on innovation and self-employment, but it is still in the initial stages. It needs to be accelerated, otherwise it would be difficult to stop the migration of large number of people from villages. Such migration is indeed concerning. Due to this, our cities are crumbling and our villages are being deserted.

A large number of voters also wished their leaders exercise some restraint while airing their views. They said if the leaders used their energy to address their concerns instead of abusing each other, things would change. In most places, people were dissatisfied with their representatives. There weren’t complaints about prominent leaders, but they believed the local representatives were not raising their concerns with the party high-command.

However, an MLA confided in me that though he gets votes in the name of his party and its top leader, he has to spend hefty sums to win elections. While the leaders are applauded, there is nothing for him to show to his electorate? The ministers and chief ministers are chosen by the leadership, and they devote all their time and effort to keep them happy and serve their interests. “The bureaucrats do not listen to us, since we have no say in their appointment," he added. But, are the representatives capable of protecting the rights of the common man? Unfortunately, statistics say just the opposite. If the latest report of ADR is to be believed, during the ongoing assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh, as many as 4,442 people jumped onto the electoral fray. Out of these, 1,142 candidates have serious criminal cases. The number of Bharatiya Janata Party candidates with criminal cases is 169, while it is 224 for Samajwadi Party, 153 for BSP, 160 for Congress and 18 for Rashtriya Lok Dal. Some are even facing charges of murder, rape and kidnapping. Election after election, this trend is increasing.

There is a saying that in a democracy people get the leader they deserve. But do Indians deserve criminals? Also, this is what is reflected with a sharp decline in our political discourse!

That’s not all. The number of billionaires will not increase in the next assembly. In Uttar Pradesh’s previous assembly, 322 (or 80% of the MLAs) were crorepatis.Their average income was estimated at 5.92 crore. Against this, in 2017-18, the per capita income was 48,520 in UP, which has now climbed to 74,480. It shows that the income of the common man does not double in five years, but the wealth of their representatives increases manifold. The question is whether they work in the public interest or for self-interest.

Shashi Shekhar is editor-in-chief, Hindustan. The views expressed are personal.

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