As the campaign in Uttar Pradesh picks up, the latest polls show the Bharatiya Janata Party with a significant advantage over Mayawati. This is in line with our analysis early this month that the BJP could win a landslide in UP. The vote share predictions are increasingly likely to push Mayawati to seek an alliance with the Congress party and increased pressure on BJP to announce a CM candidate in UP. This could further complicate the election. However, this article is focussed on the issues emerging out of the surveys and not the politics per se.
In the 5forty3 survey, the top 3 issues are unemployment/jobs, agrarian distress and law & order. It is interesting how the national narrative is shifting from inflation/corruption under the UPA regime to jobs/unemployment and agrarian distress. Unemployment is not a surprise to us.
Early this year, we had predicted that unemployment would soon become the No.1 election issue and it is surprising that it has become the No.1 issue so swiftly. In parts of UP that are less irrigated, the two failed monsoons have caused serious damage in an already poor region. On Crime, there has been a steady decline in law and order across most States as job creation has slowed down across the country. UP has suffered too. However, UP is a tinder box on the issue of communal conflict with the 2013 Muzaffarnagar riots affecting the amity in the state. The beef incident last year has further complicated the communal environment in the state.
Most of these problems are directly or indirectly linked to the issue of affluence in UP. Increased affluence would mean more jobs have been created, youth are gainfully employed and have less time to indulge in pointless fights (or crime) and farmers are able to pay off their debts.
The state itself will be able to raise more taxes and provide a better quality of life to citizens across the state. But the reality is that UP is one of the poorest states in the country with per capita GDP at Rs. 40,373.
In 1971 for example, UP, while poor, was ahead of states like Odisha and Madhya Pradesh both of which have now moved significantly ahead. It was marginally poorer than Tamil Nadu in 1971. In 2015, TN's per capita GDP was 3.1 times that of Uttar Pradesh. The following chart illustrates how UP is placed versus other states. I have used Gujarat as the benchmark state.
On a per capita GDP basis, UP is about 8 years behind Gujarat. This figure is not inflation adjusted, so in reality it is probably more behind.
Tragically, even if UP were to grow at an astonishing rate of 15% per annum until the next election in 2022, it would have reached the same position as Gujarat and Uttarakhand were in 2014, still 8 years behind. These figures are not inflation adjusted, so in reality many more years behind and therefore many more years of poverty for most residents in the state.
Therefore, is Uttar Pradesh forever destined to be behind other states in the country?
In my view, while experts and punters come out with a variety of hypothesis on the UP election, every stakeholder including politicians and those following the UP election must answer this one question
How can UP catch up with the leading states like Haryana, Gujarat, Maharashtra etc?
It is clear that 15% growth for many years may not close this gap. Then what will and how? Politicians, media and Twitterrati have spent hours discussing the same social issues that have been discussed for the last 25 years while the state itself has languished on most metrics.
The bigger concern appears to be whether the party I love comes to power or what should we do to prevent the party I hate from coming to power.
Instead perhaps we should be asking politicians pointed questions about college education (1 teacher for 190 students), quality of healthcare (high fertility rates), poor sanitation record, quality of irrigation (in Bundelkhand) and the generally poor levels of industrialisation in the state. There are many other issues that we should demand answers from politicians instead of spending time debating whether a caste group with 3% vote will vote for party X or party Y or whether polarisation or caste mobilisation is the best route to win the election in 2017.
Meanwhile, the women in the state have taken a lead and the number of women who have a college degree has almost doubled in the last 5 years. Many politicians in the state are not even aware of this wonderful fact.
Our quest over the next few months while continuing to analyse the election in traditional ways will be to understand what the solutions are to the bigger problems in UP. We should also ask politicians in UP if they have the answers to the specific problems of the state. We should also ask politicians what plan they have to ensure UP is up and on par with most states in the country. That in my view is the real question in Uttar Pradesh.