UP for Grabs: Prize Catch or Poi­soned Chalice?

The Economic Times - - Pure Politics -

(for Mus­lims) then it should get a cre­ma­tion ground (for Hin­dus).”

Who can dis­pute that all In­di­ans ought to be equal (in life and death) re­gard­less of their caste or re­li­gion, or that we must have law and or­der? It is un­for­tu­nate that Modi, who ought to be tak­ing the moral high ground, set­ting an in­clu­sive tone, and set­tling into cruise con­trol as he heads into the fourth year of his term, is in­stead get­ting more pugilis­tic and un­par­lia­men­tary. He stooped too low with his rain­coat jibe at for­mer prime min­is­ter Man­mo­han Singh in the Ra­jya Sabha on Feb.8. Does he see Ban­quo’s ghost, or is this just steam be­ing let off ? Ei­ther way, this is prob­a­bly a good ar­gu­ment to hold par­lia­men­tary and state elec­tions si­mul­ta­ne­ously – you get all the poi­son out of the way at one go and then get down to the real job of run­ning the coun­try and the econ­omy.

Isn’t it in­ter­est­ing that de­mon­e­ti­za­tion, or note-bandi, has more or less van­ished from the head­lines and our nightly news ‘de­bates’? I was hop­ing that 100 days in, Amit Shah would have pub­lished a doc­u­ment list­ing all trans­ac­tions con­ducted since Nov.8 by party MPs and MLAs, as they were com­manded by Modi.

A full reck­on­ing from de­mon­e­ti­za­tion will prob­a­bly have to wait un­til af­ter the state elec­tions. The In­ter­na­tional Mon­e­tary Fund (IMF), which re­leased its re­port for the 2017 Ar­ti­cle IV Con­sul­ta­tion on Wed­nes­day, called for quicker ac­tion to re­store cash and avoid pay­ment dis­rup­tions. The IMF ap­plauded In­dia’s con­tin­u­ing re­forms but warned that sup­ply-side bot­tle­necks and banks’ huge non-per­form­ing as­set bur­den could im­pede a ro­bust re­cov­ery from the cur­rent dip (it fore­casts slower GDP growth of 6.6% in 2016/17, go­ing back to 7.2% next fis­cal year). There is no ques­tion that Modi will have to buckle down to clean­ing up bank bal­ance sheets, mak­ing faster job cre­ation pos­si­ble, and re­viv­ing man­u­fac­tur­ing if he wants to ride into the 2019 elec­tions on a feel-good eco­nomic wave. Mean­while, he has to win Ut­tar Pradesh.

It is not sur­pris­ing that Ut­tar Pradesh is such a rich prize. Nine of In­dia’s 15 prime min­is­ters have come from the state (if you count Gulzari Lal Nanda, who held the of­fice for two 13-day stretches in 1964 and 1966).

Three prime min­is­ters, and four cur­rent Mem­bers of Par­lia­ment, be­long to the Nehru-Gandhi fam­ily. The two mother-and-son pairs sit on op­pos­ing benches in the Lok Sabha.

That does not mean that any one of the four is of na­tional stature. So although UP is our most pop­u­lous state, and sends 80 MPs to the Lok Sabha, it has not thrown up any leader of na­tional stature since Atal Be­hari Va­j­payee. No ‘na­tional’ party has ruled the state in a long while – the BJP since 2002, and Congress since 1989.

The good news is that vot­ers have a slightly eas­ier choice this time in UP: in the 2012 elec­tions, an av­er­age of 17 can­di­dates fought for each of the 403 seats. In the four phases of vot­ing so far, the av­er­age is 11 can­di­dates per seat.

Let’s look at how ma­jor par­ties per-


formed in the 2012 as­sem­bly elec­tion in Ut­tar Pradesh. The BJP won 15% of votes, and 47 seats; the Sa­ma­jwadi Party won 29.13% and 224 seats; and the Bahu­jan Sa­maj Party (BSP) won 25.91% but only 80 seats. Things changed dra­mat­i­cally in the par­lia­men­tary elec­tions just two years later: the BJP won 42.63% of votes, 71 of 80 Lok Sabha seats; the SP won 22.35% and only five LS seats; and the BSP won 19.77% of votes and not a sin­gle Lok Sabha seat. Will the num­bers flip around again? Akhilesh Ya­dav has won some brownie points re­cently by stand­ing up to his fa­ther, wrest­ing con­trol of the Sa­ma­jwadi Party, and fash­ion­ing a poll al­liance with Rahul Gandhi. He even got mov­ing in the last two years of his term on im­prov­ing in­fras­truc­ture. But his progress re­port is like a cu­rate’s egg – good only in parts.

I spoke with Pro­fes­sor Brij Ba­j­pai of the Giri In­sti­tute of Devel­op­ment Stud­ies in Lucknow about UP’s track record on ed­u­ca­tion. “There is a prob­lem with pub­lic at­ti­tudes,” he told me. “Com­mu­nity par­tic­i­pa­tion is very low.” UP had slipped to 34th rank in 2012/13 from 27th in 2007/08 on the Com­pos­ite Ed­u­ca­tional Devel­op­ment In­dex, whereas Bi­har had im­proved its rank­ing from 35th to 30th among In­dia’s 36 states and union ter­ri­to­ries. The dropout rate in pri­mary ed­u­ca­tion in UP stood at 11.85% in 2011/12, com­pared with an all-In­dia av­er­age of 6.5%, but looked bet­ter in up­per-pri­mary (classes 6-8) dropouts with 3.97% com­pared with an In­dia av­er­age of 6.56%. In 2012/13, 6.4% of chil­dren in the 6-14 age group were not en­rolled in school; 42.7% were in gov­ern­ment schools, and 48.5% in pri­vate schools.

Th­ese fig­ures are de­spite the fact that UP got a per-stu­dent al­lo­ca­tion of Rs 11,453 in 2016/17 un­der the Sarva Shik­sha Ab­hiyan, far higher than Rs 4,485 for Bi­har, Rs 9,363 for Ra­jasthan and Rs 6,546 for Mad­hya Pradesh. UP had 23% va­can­cies for teach­ers, com­pared with 34% in Bi­har, as of March 2016. This data was gath­ered by Ac­count­abil­ity Ini­tia­tive at the Cen­tre for Pol­icy Re­search.

Other in­di­ca­tors un­der­line the deep poverty in Ut­tar Pradesh. Only 56% of UP’s houses were con­nected to roads in 2016, up from 36% in 2000, whereas Bi­har went up to 85% from 26%. This could partly be be­cause the state gov­ern­ment had to spend three times as much as funds it re­ceived from the cen­tre un­der the Prad­han Mantri Gram Sadak Yo­jana (Bi­har got twice as much cen­tral as state fund­ing). Road lengths con­structed or up­graded un­der the Akhilesh gov­ern­ment to­talled all of 1,710 km (April 2012-Jan 2017) ver­sus 1,913 km in the pre­vi­ous five years.

How has Modi’s favourite Swachh Bharat Mis­sion fared in UP? Only 46% of ru­ral house­holds had la­trines as of De­cem­ber 2016, up from 40% in 2014/15. Com­pare this with Ut­tarak­hand, which voted on Feb.15 – ru­ral homes with la­trines hit 100% in Dec.2016 from 77% in 2014/15. This could be be­cause of slower spend­ing in UP, which went up to 65% of avail­able funds in 2016/17 (un­til De­cem­ber) from 51% in 2015/16 and 41% in 2014/15.

This un­der-devel­op­ment data pro­vides rich pickings for Modi’s stump speeches this month, but you know what they say about be­ing care­ful what you wish for. Not to put too fine a point on it, if the BJP does win power in Ut­tar Pradesh, it will carry the can.

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