Inflation, joblessness force BJP supporters to question their choice in eastern UP

Inflation, joblessness force BJP supporters to question their choice in eastern UP
Inflation, joblessness force BJP supporters to question their choice in eastern UP

Ranjit Kumar Bind in Mamamra village, Badohi is a self-confessed BJP supporter who voted enthusiastically for Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2014 and 2019. Just as deftly as he folds paan for waiting customers, he also sums up his assessment of Mr. Modi’s ten-year-long government.

Yeh khaye bina marne nahi denge, by aage bhi badne nahi denge (he won’t let us die without food, but he won’t let us go forward too),” Mr. Bind, who belongs to one of the many non-Yadav Other Backward Classes (OBCs) that changed their affiliation post- 2014, helping the saffron party shed its identity as a representative of only the upper castes, and Vaishya gold baniya (trading communities) in Uttar Pradesh.

Mr. Bind’s comment criticizing the Modi government’s free ration scheme, under which each person in a household receives 5 kg of free grains per month, evokes peals of laughter from the gathered crowd, all of whom pitch in with their own appraisal of the BJP government — that it was keeping them short of complete dismissal but had cheated them out of the life they had been promised.

This election’s narrative is centered around rising inflation and unemployment. Mr. Modi, who appeared larger than life, and beyond the pale of questioning, is suddenly appearing diminished in stature, with the electorate in a mood to question. The consecration of the Ram Mandir is not enthusing voters as much as the BJP had expected. The social coalition the BJP had built carefully in Uttar Pradesh, collating non-Yadav OBCs and non-Jatav Dalits, is fraying at its ends.

On inflation, voters real off comparative prices of staples prior to 2014 and then 10 years of the Modi government. Any discussion on elections begins with the phrase, “Mehngayi charam seema paar kar chuki hai (inflation has breached all limits)“.

In Deoria Lok Sabha constituency, Indrajeet Nishaad, who belongs to an OBC community, cites the rate of gold, which climbed up from ₹26,000-27,000 for 10 grams prior to 2014 to ₹70,000 currently. He also cites the cost of a motorcycle, which is currently over one lakh rupees, but was available for half the price under the Congress regime. “GST on diamonds is 3% and it’s 26% on books. Please tell me why the prices won’t rise with such illogical policies,” he says, questioning’s financial prudence in taxing the poor more than the rich.

Many voters also bring up Union Minister Smriti Irani’s protest against the price of gas cylinders during the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) years to point out the current cost of gas cylinders is over ₹860 in most parts of the State.

Coupled with the rising prices is the high rate of unemployment and increased privatization, which the electorate claims is making reservation completely irrelevant.

At the Ghosi Lok Sabha seat, Munna Saini, also the member of an OBC community, is enjoying a cup of tea before heading for work. ‘Feel good factor’ had led him to vote for the BJP in the previous two Lok Sabha elections, he said. He is angry about stagnant wages and rising prices, especially arhardal (red gram), which he stresses is over ₹160 for a kilogram, a staple in these parts of UP Broach the topic of the Ram Mandir and Mr. Saini gets livid. “He did not birth Ram, he is because of Ram,” he said. His anger is directed at the PM, who in his election speeches has claimed credit for the construction of the temple, a feat he says no one could do in 500 years. Voters are not entirely convinced by the pitch. Many point out that the temple’s construction began only on the Supreme Court’s direction, and they had all contributed towards it. They are not ready to cede ownership of the Ram Mandir to the PM alone.

It’s unemployment that really gets the voters worked up, with everyone sharing their own or their relatives’ experience — studying for competitive exams for years but not managing to secure a government job as the number of vacancies had come down drastically.

Arvind Kumar Rajbhar cycling down to the powerloom at which he works, stops for a brief chat at Bhathpul Mor, Ghosi. He laments the stagnant wages and bleak prospects for his children. “What is the point of spending money for our children’s education, considering there are no jobs? We pay so much money in tuition. For what really, I wonder,” Mr. Rajbhar said. The Rajbhars are an OBC community.

Ishwar Chand Maurya, at Bardha village on the outskirts of Varanasi, who works as a driver in Mumbai, has returned to his village for voting. Some estimates suggest Mauryas are the second-largest OBC community in UP after Yadavs. He, too, switched to the BJP after 2014 but is now indifferent to the saffron party. “They had promised we will not have to leave our homes (migrate) for work, but there is no viable option available here. Modi-ji has been lying to us. Can Ram Mandir feed hungry stomachs? Can abusing Muslims build factories?” Mr. Maurya asked. One person among the group that has gathered around this heated debate points out with a chuckle, “Didn’t Modi-ji tell you to fry pakoras?” “This exactly sums up Mr. Modi’s policies. He shrugged off all responsibilities. Tell me why one should vote for them,” Mr. Maurya said.

Among these caste groups, the only voters who remain loyal to the BJP are those who have been voting for the party from before 2014.

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