Dharmendar, 26, sat huddled with his friends on one side of a dirt-filled bylane deep inside Etawah mandi, the biggest vegetable market in town. When I asked him about local politics, he said smiling, “Arey aao baitho, hum bhi yahin baat kar rahe the (Please come sit. We were discussing the same).”
Dharmendar is a graduate, having done BA in political science with no luck of finding a job among the vast multitude of job seekers in India’s most populous and ever-expanding state. So, he is now engaged in selling vegetables like the rest of his family. He is a voter in Etawah Sadar, that goes to polls Sunday, February 19. “Yahan unka gadh hai (This is their stronghold),” said Dharmendar referring to the ruling Samajwadi Party (SP).
It’s true. Etawah is the hometown of Mulayam Singh Yadav and he, along with Shivpal and Akhilesh, find great resonance here, especially among the Yadav voters. The family belongs to Saifai, a village located 20 kilometres from Etawah town and generously and financially blessed by the family. One thing that’s commonly cited by the locals is the availability of 24×7 power supply and drinking water. “SP sarkar se light aur paani milti hai,” Dharmendar said. But the rising youth demographic is clearly not satisfied with the basic bijli-paani promise.
“The lion safari is meaningless. No one is getting any benefits. Lions are dying there,” said Amrar, another vendor who sold green chillies at the market. “Kaun jayega wahan? Faaltu paisa barbad karna hai (Who will go there? Money being wasted).”
Amrar’s reference was to the drive-through lion safari park that was recently inaugurated by Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav but not opened to the public yet. The park is considered to be a pet project of Mulayam Singh and inspired by Longleat Safari Park in Wiltshire, England. The safari park had frequently been in the news for the deaths of the lions, some of which had been brought from Gir in Gujarat. During the 2014 election campaign, Mulayam Singh had famously said, “We have caged the Gujarat lions. We will cage the BJP in UP too.” But the words had no effect on Etawah voters as the BJP, under Narendra Modi, swept all five Assembly segments under the constituency,
Dharmendar was also of the opinion that factories should have been built to give employment to the jobless instead of a fancy lion safari park.
‘Note-bandi ka asar hua hai’
Demonetisation is also a theme frequently cited by BJP’s opponents in this election. “Note-bandi ke baad dikkate hi dikkate hai. Agar ghar pe koi bimaar pad jaye, toh kahan se rupay laate? Doctor bataate Rs 50,000, kahan se layenge?” (There are so many problems after note ban. If someone falls ill at home and the doctor asks for Rs 50,000, from where will we bring money?), asked Dharmendar.
“Kala dhan toh thoda bahut hi pakda gaya hai. Poori pakda kahan gaya hai? Jo bahar ka tha, voh toh aaya nahin videsho wala. Sabse zyada videsho mein hi toh hai (Only very little black money has been caught. The black money, majority of which is outside the country, has not come back)” he added. The note ban has also had an impact on vegetable prices that have plummeted because of less demand. Potatoes, grown locally, that earlier used to sell for Rs 12/kg now sold for Rs 3/kg. “Profits have come down and labourers have been affected,” said Amrar. The mirchi (chilli) that he earlier used to sell for Rs 20/kg had now come down to Rs 15/kg. While buyers have benefited, farmers have suffered losses due to low demand.
‘Ram mandir banni chahiye’
While the promise to build a grand temple dedicated to Lord Ram at Ayodhya is something the BJP rakes up in every election in UP, it’s largely thought the issue has lost relevance amongst other issues like unemployment and rising food prices. But it was still debated in the Etawah mandi. “Ram mandir banni chahiye (Ram temple should be built),” asserted Devi Charan. “Mandir aur masjid ek jagah nahi ho sakte (Temple and mosque can’t be on the same spot).”
At the same time, Devi Charan accepted that the BJP had done nothing about it despite several promises. Besides, in a diverse electorate dominated by the youth, getting a job and the effort to eke out a decent livelihood dominates the discourse.