A poll bound Uttar Pradesh is a color of its own, mixed with hues of political promises and deeply emotional voters. A visit to Western UP’s Shamli, which goes to polls on February 10th, signaled a threat to the BJP’s hold over the seat.
A sugarcane farmer walking on Shamli’s main road with his yield
About a hundred odd kilometers from Delhi, and on a day when Samajwadi Party’s Akhilesh Yadav and Rashtriya Lok Dal’s Jayant Chaudhary are scheduled to make a visit to the area, Shamli is echoing with slogans seeking change. From walls to face-masks, the sugarcane capital of Uttar Pradesh is filled with colors – red & green, on the most part. SP’s red & RLD’s green, which Akhilesh Yadav has also called a ‘bahurangi gathbandhan,’ adorns not just doors of farmers’ homes but also their caps, headscarves, and tractors.
Workers at a local car-repair shop, and their ‘bahurangi gathbandhan’
The seat is currently held by BJP’s Tejendra Nirwal, who won the 2017 polls by 30,000 votes. Western UP harbors 136 of the total 403 seats in the UP assembly, which, as per experts, may impact the outcome of the overall elections. Men at the ground tell Mojo Story that they are angry with the BJP. The primary reason being its ‘lackadaisical’ attitude towards farmers who sat at Delhi’s border for 13 months.
There is also anger over their unpaid sugarcane prices and the deaths during farmer protests. “The BJP fell short of its promises, which I voted for in 2017. I am jobless & meet my expenses by doing odd jobs,” Ram Prasad, who works as a mechanic in Shamli, tells us. With an RLD scarf around his head, he alleges that while he voted for BJP in 2017, he is now looking for change. “Akhilesh will give us jobs,” he adds.
Men raising SP & RLD flags as they wait for Akhilesh Yadav & Jayant Chaudhary to arrive
Behind the scenes at a political rally, a truck carrying hundreds of SP-RLD flags
Yogi Adityanath, however, continues to impress the voters with his law & order policies. Next to a small tea stall, sits Rameshwar Singh with a copy of that day’s Amar Ujala in his hand. He tells us that he is proud of what Yogi has done to criminals in the state. “Gundagardi kam ho gayi hai (crime has reduced),” he says. Political conversations currently serve as a magnet for UP’s deeply emotional voters. Any hint of the B-word or the S-word (BJP & SP) draws people to a unapologetically high-pitched ‘chai pe charcha.’
BJP loyalists bicker about the nitty gritties of the party at a local tea stall
Our chat with Singh attracts more locals. Huddled together, these men tell us why they would be voting for the BJP this time. While some are returning voters, a former Bahujan Samaj Party loyalist, says, “Behenji did nothing for me. I will also vote for the BJP this time.” Uttar Pradesh is known for its massive anti-incumbency sentiment. For decades, the state has always chosen a different party every five years.
At a tiny party office, a lone BSP supported and a half-cut Mayawati
At another corner, Akhilesh Yadav’s famous ‘rath’ arrives. Adorned with images of Sardar Patel, BR Ambedkar, and Abdul Kalam, it also has the god Ram in a corner. This follows the path of Yadav’s ‘soft-Hindutva’ politics. “I don’t pray to god for mere appearance. I visit the temples that BJP doesn’t,” he tells Barkha Dutt in a conversation atop the same vehicle.
Akhilesh Yadav’s famous ‘rath’ has pictures of god Ram, Sardar Patel & BR Ambedkar, among others
At the venue of Yadav & Chaudhary’s press conference, an all-male group of UP reporters waits for the leaders to arrive
While Yadav & Chaudhary’s road-show continues to be dominated by men, women voters in a small village in Shamli district tell us they’re still confused who to vote for. “Whoever comes and tells me which button to press, I will vote for them,” says Radha as she attempts to laugh away every political question. For candidates fielded in the first phase of polls, only 13% are women.
Women at Loni village in Shamli
Amid all the chaos, however, Shamli is vibrant. Characters from all walks enthusiastically tell us who they want to vote for this time. Standing strong on their loyalties, they tell us the issues that will decide who wins Western UP this time. “BJP did nothing for farmers. If Modi wanted, he could have ended the farmers’ protest 13 months ago. Seven hundred farmers would not have died, then,” a sugarcane farmer tells us.
Barkha Dutt on the ground in Loni, Shamli