In a vibrant democracy electoral choices undergo transformation with the change in social, political and economic ethos. In India, initially electoral choices were influenced by the national fervor; a remnant of struggle for political independence. The social engineering (which continues even now) ruled the writ for quite a while. Economic development seems to have since captured the imagination of the voters ahead of national fervor and social engineering. Return of the political executives in power beating the incumbency in the states of Delhi, Gujarat, Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh and very recently in Bihar validates the surmise.

Economic deprivation and inequality now weigh more than ever before when a common man travels to the polling booth and presses the button of the electronic machine. He favors the candidate/party who he perceives will promote greater economic well being. The state of Uttar Pradesh (UP) along with couple of other states will be going to polls in early 2012. The voters will once again choose their representatives. What will they decide is hidden in the garb of future. However, there is a strong possibility that the economic development or lack of it in the state so far and more particularly, in the last five years will outwit the professed social engineering.

A peep into the GDP growth of UP reveals that it has been lagging behind the national average. It has not figured amongst the top three states on the basis of GDP growth in any of the last ten years. The gap between GDP growth of India and UP ranged between 2 to 3% in the last five years. In case, if the contribution of Noida, Greater Noida and Ghaziabad is subtracted, the gap will be much wider. There is no gainsaying that larger benefits of the growth of these areas, which are part of National Capital Region (NCR) are shared less by people of UP and more by the residents of Delhi. The average GDP per capita of UP has been rising at the rate of less than 5% whereas that of India as whole has exhibited a trend growth of over 7.5%. This suggests that the people of UP are less economically well off than those of other states. In fact, the growth rate of UP has been dragging down the growth rate of India.

There are number of factors that influence economic development. However, four of these, which effect more than others, are; (a) quality of human capital, (b) quantum of private investment, (c) quality and extent of infrastructure, and (d) social order.

At the time of political independence and even couple of decades later UP had more of reputed academic, technical and professional institutions than any other state of India. Banaras Hindu University, Allahabad University, IIT Kanpur, King George Medical College Lucknow are just a few names, which outshined most comparable institutions in the country. Students from across India used to travel to UP for better quality education. Today those who can afford do not send their wards, may be with the exception of IIT Kanpur, to the institutions in UP. Further, UP is the least preferred place to work.

The rate of investment in UP has been steadily declining. One time amongst the top five industrial cities of India – Kanpur gives the impressions of a dead city. Very few modern industrial and commercial units are coming up in either of what were then described as cabal towns of Agra, Allahabad, Lucknow and Varanasi. The reasons for low levels of investment are not far to seek.

The quality of infrastructure both physical and social in UP is deplorable. Roads are potholes, rails run through the state haltingly, airports are non-existent and dry port concept has not been explored. Health, sanitation and water supply are all in a state of shambles, and quality of civic life looks like that of countries in the darker Africa. The size of administration is large but inefficient. It does not deliver the expected. The delivery is priced. The eco-system is not conducive. The attempts to improve are feeble. Focus is more on announcements and pronouncements than execution.

The social order, which includes safety of life, liberty and property, harmony amongst the citizenry, width and depth of unfolding economic opportunity and ease of harnessing through profession, vocation, enterprise etc. is less than inviting. Even Bihar, which was once described as a state of jungle raj has moved up the ladder very significantly. The society in UP seems to be caught in the whirlpool of the undercurrents of social and political maneuverability. There is no concern with the delay even denial. Protests against deprivation are not heard. A sense of despondency has seeped in albeit overtaken the fabric of the society.

The people who have been suffering low economic growth are bound to react. A silent revolution may grip the environment. The aspirants to the legislature and the political executive would do well to design a manifesto of economic wellbeing of the people who they seek to elect them. Empty promises will not work. Concrete details of the delivery and frames of accountability must preface. Incumbents will attempt to adorn political punditry and proffer sloganeering and artifacts of social combination. However, what will possibly help more is to take ears to the ground, hear the whispers, decipher realties, collate them into issues and architect solutions framework. Those who will build perception of positivity would have greater chances of getting elected. The time is running out. Aspirants act fast. And ‘tread the road less travelled by.’

(The writer is former Chairman of SEBI & LIC of India)