By Ratan Mani Lal

With the polling for the first round of Lok Sabha election in Uttar Pradesh being less than a week away, signs are emerging as to what factors could influence voting in certain areas. While the first phase will see voting in western UP, including districts adjoining Delhi, the trends that will be known by the end of first phase may impact the subsequent phases as well.

Besides the factors of caste, religion and monetary lure, there are some other factors that may turn out to be significant factors in this election. One major factor is the emergence of small parties. The state’s huge population, now nearing 23 crores, and the large number of Lok Sabha constituencies, mean that even a small political party can hope and expect a following of a few thousands. And if this following reaches in lakhs, the party and its leader presume themselves to be kingmakers.

Small parties, big role

Such small parties may have a limited appeal in east, central or western Uttar Pradesh, but they have acquired over years a political equity that comes to good use in election time. In fact the possible next move of such small parties prior to every election is subject of much political discussion in Lucknow every time. Parties headed by erstwhile members of the Samajwadi Party government are much talked about, the most prominent being Pragatisheel Samajwadi Party-Lohia or PSPL headed by Shivpal Yadav, the estranged brother of SP patriarch Mulayam Singh Yadav. Shivpal’s party has also managed to bring two other small parties together under an umbrella alliance. These two parties are Peace Party and Apna Dal (Krishna Patel faction). These two parties have influence among Muslims and some OBCs in eastern UP, and individual allegiance to Shivpal may emerge as a factor in central UP areas like Etawah, Ferozabad, Mainpuri etc.

Other parties include Jansatta Party floated by Raghuraj Pratap Singh (Raja Bhaiya), a close aide of Mulayam Singh Yadav who always remained an Independent MLA. Now having moved away from SP, he continues to be a major factor in certain districts of eastern UP mainly for caste and community reasons.

The case of NISHAD (Nirbal Indian Shoshit Hamara Aam Dal, or the own party for the weak, exploited Indians) is the most curious one. This party had put up a candidate Sanjay Nishad in Gorakhpur in the by-election held there in 2018 to elect a representative to Lok Sabha after the five-times MP Yogi Adityanath became the state’s Chief Minister. The candidate contested on SP’s symbol as part of the coalition between the SP and BSP, and defeated the BJP. The candidate was expected to contest this time again as a SP-BSP or NISHAD party candidate but in a curious twist, Sanjay Nishad has joined the BJP. It remains to be seen whether he contests from Gorakhpur as a BJP candidate, and whether his caste of Nishad (boatmen) still works as a factor.

Stray cows a headache

The state’s focus on cow protection and ban on illegal slaughterhouses may also emerge as factors in areas both in east and west UP. In fact farmers and residents of villages and small towns across the state are finding it difficult to manage herds of non-milch and sterile cattle let free by owners, and there are no takers for them in slaughter houses. Such animals are roaming around in school compounds, open lands, village roads and even highways. The cow shelters are proving to be grossly inadequate and the disposal of such animals is emerging as a big headache for villagers.

In many districts, villagers have openly voiced their resentment against cow vigilantism by certain elements, because of which there are no buyers for sterile cows even in the leather industry. The closure of tanneries along the Ganga river in Kanpur and Unnao has also resulted in a reduction of demand for cowhide.

Reports are coming from many areas that bad roads, water crisis, long-neglected projects could also influence voters in some areas. However, civic issues generally do not become major factors in most areas in UP, as is evident from the situation in eight constituencies that will see polling for the first phase on April 11. These constituencies - Saharanpur, Kairana, Muzaffarnagar, Bijnore, Meerut, Baghpat, Ghaziabad and Gautam Buddh Nagar including Noida and Greater Noida – have places that are most seriously polluted in the entire country. But in previous elections too, pollution or planned urbanisation have not been main election issues.

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