Work is worship: Bijli, sadak, paani are once again the key poll issues in UP

 Yogi Adityanath, Uttar Pradesh’s chief minister, along with Arun Govil, BJP’s candidate from Meerut constituency, during a roadshow in Meerut on 23 April. (PTI)
Yogi Adityanath, Uttar Pradesh’s chief minister, along with Arun Govil, BJP’s candidate from Meerut constituency, during a roadshow in Meerut on 23 April. (PTI)

Summary

  • Lok Sabha Election 2024: UP accounts for 80 of the 543 seats in the Lok Sabha. In the 2019 election, BJP alone won 62 seats. Can the party outdo its 2019 showing? Narendra Modi and Yogi Adityanath have a strong pitch, beyond the Ram Mandir.

Mathura, Ayodhya, Lucknow: “Law and order is the big reason why people like this government. The previous Samajwadi Party (SP) government was terrible when it came to this. Safety was such a huge concern. Our women couldn’t step out without being harassed. Now, there is no problem. We feel safe. Our women feel safe," says Satveer Singh, a staunch Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) supporter, who runs a small roadside tea stall in Mathura in west Uttar Pradesh.

“Also, the BJP government has given us many benefits—from improved roads to the Ujjwala (cooking gas supply) scheme, houses under the Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana, as well as free rations," he adds, as his wife nods vehemently.

Rohit Kumar, a shop owner in the busy city market of Bulandshahr, has a similar view. “I support Modiji, Yogiji and BJP. They’ve improved the law and order situation as well as roads in Uttar Pradesh and also fixed the water and electricity supply. I used to support SP earlier, but have now shifted to BJP," he says.

Across Uttar Pradesh, saffron ‘Jai Shri Ram’ flags flutter atop houses, commercial establishments, educational institutes, eateries and other buildings. And yet, it is not the expected and widely publicized Ram Mandir construction in Ayodhya that has emerged as the biggest plus point for the ruling BJP. Instead, it is what voters view as the massive improvement in the law and order situation under chief minister Yogi Adityanath, as well as the BJP government’s infrastructure and road construction push, that have emerged as the primary issues for the state’s electorate.

 

Rohit Kumar and Devendra Kumar of Bulandshahr say that law and order, besides improved roads, are BJP’s biggest contributions.
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Rohit Kumar and Devendra Kumar of Bulandshahr say that law and order, besides improved roads, are BJP’s biggest contributions. (Ruhi Tewari)

It is only when specifically asked about the Ram temple construction that most voters praise the move, while some even express indifference from a voting decision point of view. In a way perhaps, how the Ram temple is panning out electorally versus other issues shows how many Indians worry about everyday concerns impacting them directly rather than questions of religion and faith when it comes to voting. And on that count, BJP seems to be sitting pretty in Uttar Pradesh.

Besides Yogi Adityanath’s law and order pitch, the other big factors that seem to be boosting BJP are improved roads as well as Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s famous welfare-delivery model. Indeed, with improved electricity supply, the enhanced road network, as well as the Jal Jeevan Mission, which aims to provide safe drinking water through individual household tap connections to rural households, the traditional ‘bijli, sadak, paani’ electoral issues seem to have come to the fore once again.

As Uday Pratap Kaushal of Darshan Nagar in Ayodhya very succinctly puts it, “Hum Ram ke liye nahi, kaam ke liye Modiji ko vote dete hai (We support Modi not because of the temple, but for his work)."

Key issues

A ‘pink booth’ in Lucknow. Set up by the Yogi Adityanath government, such booths specifically cater to women’s safety.
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A ‘pink booth’ in Lucknow. Set up by the Yogi Adityanath government, such booths specifically cater to women’s safety. (Ruhi Tewari)

Uttar Pradesh, India’s most electorally crucial state, accounts for 80 of the 543 seats—the highest for any state—in the Lok Sabha. It will see voting across all seven phases of the 2024 election. In 2019, the BJP alone won 62 of the 80 seats, despite battling an opposition alliance of the SP, Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and Rashtriya Lok Dal. However, after sweeping the assembly elections in the state in 2022 following its massive mandate in 2017, the ruling party will be looking to retain, if not improve upon, its 2019 tally. Given its war cry of crossing the 400 mark, the party will have to outdo its performance. And to do that, it is banking on its governance record, not just the Ram temple.

What has made the law and order issue the keyword in this election is perhaps the drastic difference the voters feel from the time when Yogi Adityanath’s predecessor, the SP government, was in power.

In February, the Uttar Pradesh government earmarked more than 2,250 crore for the police department, claiming crime had come down drastically in the state. While presenting the state’s budget for the 2023-24 fiscal year, finance minister Suresh Kumar Khanna said his government’s focus was on preparing the police force to deal with law and order challenges effectively. Moreover, BJP’s top leadership has also gone all out to highlight its law and order focus as a big success story in the run-up to these elections.

“I know Yogiji will not spare criminals, allow even the slightest let-up on the law-and-order front," said Modi at an election meeting in Saharanpur earlier this month. He has praised the chief minister’s law and order model on several occasions earlier as well.

Earlier, we felt really scared stepping out alone, especially after dark. Now we feel safe. —Aastha Shukla

And voters, across age groups, seem to be convinced. “I fully support Modiji. And crime has really gone down under the Yogi Adityanath government. I come from Unnao, and earlier we felt really scared stepping out alone, especially after dark. Now we feel safe going out," says Aastha Shukla, a third-year BSc student in Kanpur’s Christ Church College. Her classmate, Krishna Dwivedi, chips in and says that besides law and order, the BJP government’s big contribution has been the improved roads and highway connectivity.

Nirav Shukla, a shopkeeper in Unnao’s Nawabganj, agrees. “I support the BJP because of the work it has done—mainly the improved law and order situation, along with better electricity supply, water connections, roads and other welfare schemes. I have not been a hardcore BJP supporter; I support whoever does good work," he says.

Ironically, even those who don’t really support BJP and lean towards other parties admit the law and order situation has drastically improved under this government.

“I am a SP supporter. But it is true that under the Akhilesh Yadav government, law and order was a significant problem. It has indeed improved now," says Dayanand Yadav, a voter in Amethi.

The Ram temple factor

The Ram temple in Ayodhya—BJP’s biggest political and electoral platform so far, on which it emerged as a national force in the 1990s—was expected to be the biggest issue in the 2024 Lok Sabha polls given the grandeur and pomp with which it was constructed and inaugurated. However, for most voters, the temple is not the primary voting factor.

 File photo of the Ram temple in Ayodhya.
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File photo of the Ram temple in Ayodhya. (ANI )

To be sure, the temple construction resonates among the party’s support base. That it runs as an undercurrent and has immense goodwill among the Hindu voter can hardly be argued. However, even for voters from the majority community, the Hindu majoritarian party’s main pitch is only a secondary election issue.

Kalyan Rajput and Radhakrishnan Rajput of Aligarh’s Mehrawal and Nagaliya villages, respectively, discuss the current elections rather animatedly with others at a small dhaba in Aligarh city. “We support Modi. Both Modi and Yogi have done very good work. BJP has built roads, given people homes, water connections and gas cylinders under Ujjwala. When SP was in power, the atmosphere was very bad. The law and order situation was dismal. Now, the police respond to even one phone call. There is peace and safety," says Radhakrishnan.

Asked about the Ram Mandir, they say it is a “welcome step", but not a voting issue. “The temple construction should have happened earlier, we have waited long enough. However, we vote for development, not religion. In today’s day and age, everyone is aware and literate enough to not vote on religious matters, but on what the government does," says Kalyan Rajput.

Ironically, even for many voters in Ayodhya, which is at the heart of the whole movement, the temple is not the primary factor. “I support the Modi government because of all that it has done, from giving gas cylinders under Ujjwala to houses, free ration, pension schemes and building new roads. And yes, the Ram temple," says Sunil Kumar Pandey, who runs a small shop near Ayodhya’s Lata Mangeshkar Chowk.

The government has constructed such a big temple. What more can we ask of them? —Deepak Nishad

Pandey says he has always been a BJP supporter. “But if you ask me what the highlight of this government’s tenure has been, it is the improved law and order situation. That is the most important factor that will make voters like me support the BJP again. Everything else comes later."

However, it isn’t as if the Ram temple isn’t the first issue on the minds of at least some voters. Such voters, however, are far fewer than expected. Take Reena Verma of Bicchiya village, Unnao, for instance. “I want Modi to be prime minister. I like everything about him. I like his speeches. I particularly like that the BJP has constructed the temple in Ayodhya. We will all go there soon," says the 21-year-old.

Deepak Nishad, who runs a small cosmetics shop near the temple in Ayodhya, says, “Ab itna bada mandir ban gaya, isse zyada hum kya chaah sakte hai sarkar se? (The government has constructed such a big temple, what more can we ask of them?)".

Poll plank

BJP says that its focus on law and order and infrastructure issues like roads and electricity have yielded visible results, leading it to make them its key poll pillars.

“The two issues of security and law and order—the former in the context of the nation and the latter in the context of the state—have been the main focus areas for BJP. The improved law and order situation in the state is very visible to the people," says Chandra Mohan, state secretary of BJP in Uttar Pradesh. “Now you will see girls on cycles and two-wheelers out even after dark. An atmosphere of safety has been created, which is apparent. The number of those spreading terror has significantly gone down."

“Similarly, the massive push in roads and highway construction as well as smooth electricity supply are also visible to voters. Yogiji’s unique selling proposition is his work. As far as the temple is concerned, people anyway had faith that BJP would bring the issue to its logical conclusion," he adds.

It isn’t as if the BJP isn’t using the Ram temple issue in its campaign. It is a point the party continues to highlight, but it is clear that law and order has gained primacy. For instance, in a rally in Bijnore earlier this month, Adityanath said BJP had successfully constructed the Ram temple in Ayodhya, but more than that, he highlighted the law and order situation in the state, claiming that women and the business community now feel safe.

Not the solution

While the Ram Mandir does resonate among Hindu voters, there are some who squirm at the idea of this brazen flirting with religion. “The money this government has spent on the Ram temple could have been spent on development work or to build schools and hospitals. This is nothing but a political tool to lure voters," says Seema Sharma of Bulandshahr.

“This government focuses too much on religion. Can religion solve all problems? Instead of religion, they should devote this mindspace to governance, education and employment generation," says Hiralal Kushwaha of Bashiratganj in Unnao.

A BJP supporter holds a mask of Prime Minister Narendra Modi during an election campaign rally in Meerut, 31 March.
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A BJP supporter holds a mask of Prime Minister Narendra Modi during an election campaign rally in Meerut, 31 March. (PTI)

Meanwhile, members of the minority community feel BJP continuing to harp on the Ram temple shows how it values religion more than the people’s welfare. “Why is BJP always talking about the temple? If it is really a government for all, as the Prime Minister claims, it should talk more about development and welfare. It should, in fact, stop talking about the temple now," says Arfa Bano of Raebareli.

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