Has Uttar Pradesh moved on?

Published: February 12, 2012
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The writer has written for the Indian Express, Times of India, Khaleej Times and Wall Street Journal. She currently writes for the Business Standard in Delhi 
jyoti.malhotra@tribune.com.pk

The writer has written for the Indian Express, Times of India, Khaleej Times and Wall Street Journal. She currently writes for the Business Standard in Delhi jyoti.malhotra@tribune.com.pk

On the road from Banaras, said to be the oldest living city on the face of the earth, to Ghazipur, about 80 km to the east, I run into Mohammed Anwar and his many friends at Saidpur, not more than a ‘kasba’ on both sides of the road.

Over the next 20 minutes and several cups of tea in a small, mud container called a ‘kulhar’, that further sweetens the tea with its warm, earthy taste, I get the full lowdown on the ‘rajnaitik hava’ or ‘electoral wind’ sweeping this flank of eastern Uttar Pradesh, and whether or not it is converting into a ‘lehar’, literally a wave, that will knock every other party out of sight.

According to Anwar, Subhash Pasi, the candidate from the Samajwadi Party, that is led by the backward caste leader Mulayam Singh Yadav, is streets ahead of his rival, Amerika Pradhan, of the pro-Dalit Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), because although he’s a businessman from Mumbai, he has donated several ambulances in the area and is always available to anyone who “wants work done.”

Anwar’s grey-blue eyes are piercing and his passion for his candidate — and indeed, for the elections on hand in Uttar Pradesh — is heartwarming in an era of deep cynicism that emanates from wide-scale corruption and a caste cauldron that has every visitor foreign to UP shaking his head in disbelief.

For the last 20 years, ever since former prime minister V P Singh, in 1990 ordered that central government jobs be allocated on caste lines, the face of politics in India has been dramatically transformed. VP, of course, had sought to neutralise the growing demand by right-wing political parties, such as the BJP, to build a temple to the Hindu god Ram, on the site of the Babri Masjid in Ayodhya, by the caste instrument.

When the masjid was demolished in 1992, and UP was divided along religious lines, the BJP reaped the wind. But in a state of 175 million people, in which 20 per cent of the population is Muslim, the fiduciary interest must at least, sometime, prevail.

Today, the BJP is a lowly fourth in a four-horse election. The people of UP have firmly rejected its right-wing politics, not least because the more primeval caste instinct overcame religious affiliation. Dalit leader Mayawati and her BSP has ruled the state for the last five years with an iron fist. VP Singh must be laughing from beyond the grave or wherever he is right now.

Still, in India’s poorest state, the wheel is turning once again. Caste is dominant and will still decide the fate of most candidates in a 403-seat legislative assembly. But the glimmer of other factors, progress and development as well as what people loosely call the ‘Rahul Gandhi factor,’ could tilt the direction of the wind.

In the conversation about Hindu-Muslim ties with Mohammed Anwar and his friends in that Saidpur village, who insist that there are no communal issue, that people meet each other on Holi, Diwali and Eid, I point out to him that it was from this region that the villages got partitioned in 1947.

You can feel the silence for a few seconds. Then another man, standing behind Anwar speaks up. Muslims are doing well in UP, he says, our population is bigger than Pakistan.

That ends the debate. UP has clearly moved on, and like so much else, could show the rest of India the way.

Published in The Express Tribune, February 13th, 2012.

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Reader Comments (18)

  • Sajida
    Feb 12, 2012 - 9:52PM

    I hope the Dalits have recovered from the fraud that was visited on them in the form of Mayawati.
    On the other hand Congress is not a solutions. After all it ruled the state and was reason Mayawati came to power. UP needs someone like the present leader of Bihar!
    It is amazing this state cannot do better given its large population.

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  • Mustafa Moiz
    Feb 13, 2012 - 1:56AM

    The Muslim population in India is not bigger than in Pakistan. And it was a former Justice of India who headed a government commission which said that the conditions of Muslims in India is worse than Dalits.

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  • Arindom
    Feb 13, 2012 - 1:57AM

    Nitish Kumar has transformed the other ‘most backward’ state of India – Bihar. While Bihar may not be an epitome of progress, it has , under Nitish, got rid of lawlessness, castiest thinking ( people in Bilar have been voting for development, not caste in the last 10 years), reduced crime and has come down heavily on corruption. Today it’s state GDP has turned around and is an envy. It has even reversed it’s export of cheap labour to other states as there are good opportunities within. People in Bihar today are again dreaming of recreating Magadh and Pataliputra of ancient India!!

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  • Ali Tanoli
    Feb 13, 2012 - 4:27AM

    For the first time i will say it is true that Tehrik e pakistan start it from UP, Bihar, Bangal,
    muslims and u r right miss jeyoti malhotra ji….Recommend

  • JJJackxon
    Feb 13, 2012 - 5:52AM

    The best method to subsume the divisions of religion and of caste is to grow the economic pie and provide inclusive economic opportunity to all castes and religions. This means that power, transportation, education and communication has to be facilitated by the government. Not much else. For those who fall behind economically, government-private partnerships to provide business education and micro-loans to HELP them rise through their own efforts should be supported. The secret is that everyone wants to do well and they want their children to do better still. Get his right and India will rise faster and further than any have imagined.

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  • Vishal
    Feb 13, 2012 - 7:11AM

    This Caste Based Politics has done biggest harm to Hinduism and Bharat and still doing so.

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  • BlackJack
    Feb 13, 2012 - 10:39AM

    @Sajida:
    It is not amazing that the state cannot do well despite its large population – this is one of the reasons for the lack of governance! UP would be the 5th most populous country in the world with several sections facing sub-Saharan poverty. We need to split the state into smaller administrative units with progressive governments. It is clear from the Bihar experiment (a state that till recently used to be derided as ‘saala Biharis’ by none other than their Eastern UP compatriots) that caste and religion based affiliation can be rejected if clear examples of commitment to quality governance can be demonstrated. We need more of the same.

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  • god
    Feb 13, 2012 - 11:31AM

    cast/religion/region based politics is as dangerous as terrorism

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  • Abhi
    Feb 13, 2012 - 12:05PM

    So by talking to Anwar you got the wind!
    If muslims are voting for SP, it is clear that they have not moved on. They still prefer gunda and mafia raj in bargain of some identity politics.

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  • ahmed
    Feb 13, 2012 - 1:23PM

    @Mustafa Moiz: Yes you are right ..but it’s better than pakistani muslims… and recently Indian Govt has given reservations to muslims in india (for education and job)..

    Can it happen for hindus in pakistan ??

    In India, you can establish an Islamic University but Hindu University is not allowed.

    Every Pakistani should know these facts.

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  • Menon
    Feb 13, 2012 - 7:18PM

    Caste is dominant and caste based politics has dominated UP hence, it is the poorest state. Never will get out of the ditch as long caste based politics dominates and caste based politics will never go away because it keeps the parties and its leaders in power.

    Bihar finally found its saviour, when is one rise up in UP and its siblings.

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  • Shakir Lakhani
    Feb 13, 2012 - 8:10PM

    Ahmed: “In India, you can establish an Islamic University but Hindu University is not allowed”. Wrong. Benares University used to be known as Hindu University (and probably still is). It had reserved seats for Muslims (I used to know an old Muslim who had graduated before Partition from what he called “Hindu University, Benares”).

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  • Anuj
    Feb 13, 2012 - 11:54PM

    @ Shakir Lakhani…..Banaras Hindu University was established before partition and thats why your friend graduated from a hindu university…..and its not a Hindu University anymore, although its name has not changed..

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  • sumeet
    Feb 14, 2012 - 6:51AM

    another pseudo secular at work.securalism in india means appeasment of muslims.right wing BJP.oh!yeah,so if u call to end muslim reservation,u r right wing.it does not matter to pseudo seculars that giving reservation along religious lines is truly unconstitutinal.these congressi boot licker journos are going too far in their sycophancy for congress and amul baby.and how do u predict that bjp is going to get 4th position.r u some kind of astrologer?

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  • You Said It
    Feb 14, 2012 - 7:19AM

    @Mustafa Moiz:
    The Muslim population in India is not bigger than in Pakistan.

    Nothing to be proud of, my friend – until about 10-12 years ago our muslim population was smaller than India’s. Unfortunately, our population growth rate has been much higher than India’s, while the GDP growth rate has been lower. In fact, our GDP rate is now about the same as our population growth rate — some economists have alarmingly started referring to this the Muslim rate of growth in a throwback to the erstwhile derogatory reference to India’s old “Hindu rate of growth”.

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  • wasim
    Feb 14, 2012 - 10:51PM

    “When the masjid was demolished in 1992, and UP was divided along religious lines, the BJP reaped the wind. But in a state of 175 million people, in which 20 per cent of the population is Muslim, the fiduciary interest must at least, sometime, prevail.

    And you expect to realize this dream by just chanting the official secular Mantra again and again” Muslims are doing well in UP”. ” Muslims are doing well in UP”. regardless of the ground realities or the independent HDI indicators. Your claim sounded hollow to me. The muslims of UP were let down by Congress, by Dalits and by BJP in the past they do not have enough strength to become masters of their own destiny, an you accepted the fact that after Babri Mosque UP was divided along religious lines which means it is not secular anymore, hence no chance for a minority break out of status-quo and systematic exploitation.

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  • asdf
    Feb 15, 2012 - 12:42AM

    @wasim : “they do not have enough strength to become masters of their own destiny, “

    Do you know what happens when muslims become masters of their own and everyone else’s destiny? Political Islam or islamism is what happens. Do you know how that has worked out so far in it’s history?

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  • wasim
    Feb 15, 2012 - 6:00AM

    @asdf

    No I dont know you tell me it seems you have an 800 year old experience.

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