20 Apr 2019

The Changing Arithmetic of Candidacy in UP

In India, where people simultaneously hold multiple identities — rooted in language, religion, caste and sub-castes — it’s often been debated what matters most when people vote. Bahraich offers some clues.

Aruna Handique

Let’s look at the candidature of Samajwadi Party’s Shabbir Ahmad in Bahraich. Located by the Saryu river, Bahraich is about 125 kms north-east of Uttar Pradesh’s capital Lucknow. Muslims constitute over 40 per cent of the total population here while 21 per cent of the population is made up of various scheduled castes. Clearly, anyone who gets the votes of both communities wins.

So, Shabbir Ahmad is the ideal candidate — Dalit by birth with a Muslim name.

Shall that be all, or the bigger question: should that be all?

While voting along caste and religious lines has helped to amplify demands and voices, what is also seen is the growing emphasis attached to local candidature. We see anger in people against MPs/MLAs who do not visit their constituencies often, and many voters seem to have resolved to elect a local in the hope of better accessibility.

Very little is reported from Bahraich/about Bahraich in the mainstream media, but looking at the photos posted by Instagram users from Bahraich in the last year, one thing stood out: selfies/photographs with either blurred out surroundings or photoshopped into better localities.

What can we infer from this? One interpretation is that locals are embarrassed with their surroundings and/or want their neighbourhoods to get a major facelift. It would follow that the preference for a local candidate is not only because of the accessibility it promises, but also provides an assurance that a local leader would address these expectations.

This marks a shift — from political choices driven by a community’s aspirations (for greater power, control, benefits etc) to individual aspirations (for better surroundings, lifestyles, opportunities etc).

In today’s Uttar Pradesh, we are increasingly seeing young people assert their individualism, often defining themselves by the work they do/professional tribes they belong to.

It would not be wrong to say that we see an emergence of a class of people who are rejecting social identities, and are focused on the hopes, fears and aspirations of their individual identities.

So, the art and arithmetic of choosing the ‘perfect’ candidate will evolve, as it will have to balance the very real needs of communities who continue to face prejudice and individuals who want their lives to improve, quickly.

These notes are an experiment in data-driven points of view. We are immersing ourselves in information screens and data patterns and allowing ourselves to connect dots. We emerge to write a note — like the one you’re reading — which is our best understanding at a given moment in time. We believe ourselves to be correct in the moment, but are happy to be proven wrong. In either case we learn and improve.

The BJP's formidable post-caste bloc
Chowkidars: The Few, the Loud and the Quiet