The aspiration vote

UP lags the country on key socio-economic indicators. Only good politics can bridge that

Almost on the eve of elections to the Uttar Pradesh assembly, Chief Minister Mayawati sacked more than 20 ministers. She also piloted a resolution in the assembly to have the state carved into four for more efficient administration. Put together with her pitch about her government's development record, the moves captured an understanding that the BSP's fortunes in these elections would centre on an appraisal of her incumbency. In 2007, Mayawati's success in taking a clear majority was a political gamechanger. It demonstrated the outdatedness of political parties' ploy of retaining relevance in the state by reaching out to constituencies in a polarised electoral space, and asserting their weight in a hung assembly. Now, as parties seek to pitch big tents with promises of development a combination of entitlement programmes and infrastructural agendas could there be a deepening of UP's politics of aspiration?

The voters are clearly seeking it. And the political contenders in the fray have covered a fair distance since 2007 in responding to these aspirations. The SP, for example, lit up its manifesto five years ago with outrage over computerisation and English-language dominance. Now, the SP has hushed its old linguistic anxieties, its chief, Mulayam Singh Yadav, is seeking to reclaim the law-and-order plank on which Mayawati constructed an anti-SP vote in 2007, and its manifesto brims with promises of free laptops and tablets for students. While highlighting its Centrally-moved welfare schemes, the Congress says it will subsidise access to healthcare and legal assistance, besides bringing Muslims under the Mandal framework for reservations. The BJP is keeping low-key its Hindutva outreach and speaking of free electricity and crop insurance to farmers, and subsidised foodgrain for BPL families. And all parties dwell on an infrastructure vision, with electricity generation as a pivot.

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