After the polling in Punjab, Manipur and Uttarakhand, all eyes are now focused on Uttar Pradesh elections. Voting for the first and second phases of elections in the state is over now. It is quite heartening that majority of people registered their participation in the voting process with great zeal and enthusiasm. It is a forthcoming development for both the political parties and the Election Commission that a large number of people are coming out of their houses to exercise  their franchise. There was a time when voters’ participation used to be below the 50 percent mark, thereby facilitating even those parties to grab power which did not have mandatory support. Now there is a changed scenario owing to the initiatives taken by the commission aimed at increasing voters’ participation at large and involvement of larger section of youths in the electoral process. Despite successful efforts of the poll panel in holding impartial elections, the use of money power during elections has been a serious concern that exists. Even our political parties are showing sluggishness to curb the malaise. However, in Punjab and Uttar Pradesh, EC officials seized a huge sum in crores which were presumably to be used during elections. Despite recovering a huge cash, the poll panel is not sure about putting an end to the misuse of money power in the elections. No stringent action has been so far taken by the Commission against any political parties for their involvement in misuse of money during elections. On account of spiraling expanses of the political parties in holding election campaigns and rallies, it has become almost impossible for the parties and their leaders to confine their poll expenditure within the limit set by the poll panel.

Though it can be possible to keep the poll expenditure within the prescribed limit, nevertheless, it seems to be very difficult to check the misuse of money by parties and candidates. Political parties have been found to be involved in distributing money and liquor to the voters during elections in order to influence their opinion by wrong means. It is ironical that some people in our country cast their votes under the influence of their personal greed and temptation thrown by parties and candidates. It will take some more time in making these voters aware of the importance of their votes. Until then, the commission will have to keep its tight vigil in dealing with such ill-practices. Nevertheless, the Commission and the parties can contemplate on rationalizing the poll expenditure. The issue has been widely discussed but the concerned parties failed to reach to any conclusion. Eventually this indecisive factor has promoted the misuse of money power in elections. Whenever the political parties and the candidates resort to money power by violating norms, it generates the ill-practices like corruption and accumulation of black money. Though our political leaders claim to be serious on curbing the corruption, it will be quite pertinent to make the poll expenditure limit rational. Putting a deaf ear to this issue finally hinders the progress of electoral reforms and also grows the influence of black money in politics. The promises being made by the leaders of all political parties to win UP polls are far from reality. Despite tall claims made by the leaders of being fair to the caste and religion, they are actually riding on such poll planks only to polarize the voters in their favour. All the stake holders in UP elections have allotted tickets to party candidates on the basis of caste and religion.

In fact, all political parties are maintaining double standard. But to some extent, electorates are also responsible for this situation. The politics based on caste and religion is solely responsible for the problems being faced by the people of Uttar Pradesh. All the political parties including Samajwadi Party, BSP, Congress and BJP, are giving main thrust on caste and religion based politics to win UP elections. It is very difficult for anybody to predict the poll results owing to multi-cornered contest in almost every constituency. All the stake holders of the state politics are claiming bright chances of their victory in larger possibility of the division of votes. But substantial increase in voters-turnout has jeopardized such claims of these parties. The BJP believes that the Congress will make inroads in the vote bank of the SP and BSP which is bound to benefit the saffron party. After the aggressive poll campaigns by Congress general secretary Rahul Gandhi in the state, the grand old party’s strategists believe that the Congress will be the natural choice of the people of Uttar Pradesh because they are fed up with the previous regimes in the state led by the BJP, SP and BSP for the last 22 years. On the contrary, the SP and BSP believe that being regional parties, they have strong grip on the people of the state. It is a common notion that ruling BSP and main opposition party SP are the main contenders of power in the state.

Another opinion suggests that the BSP’s poll prospects will be marred by the anti-incumbency factor. No poll-prediction about UP elections is said to be final as caste and religion are the stark realities of UP politics. Even this time, parties are trying to woo voters on the basis of caste and religion. There is a fierce fight between the Congress, SP and BSP to lure Muslim voters to their fold as voters of this community are inclined to any party in toto. First the Congress party announced 4.5 percent reservation for minorities to woo Muslim voters and now senior party leader and Union Law Minister Salman Khurshid has also promised to increase the reservation quota for them to nine percent. After being snubbed by the Commission for violating the model code of conduct, Khurshid was left with an option of capitalizing the controversy over 2008 Batla House incident. There are two contrary opinions within the Congress party over the incident. On one hand, the Union Home Minister and the Prime Minister on several occasions claimed that the 2008 encounter in New Delhi was authentic whereas party general secretary Digvijay Singh and Salman Khurshid named it a fake one. Whether the party succeeded in luring the Muslim voters to its fold or not would be clear only after the results. The poll results will also reveal about successful efforts of political party for capitalizing the caste plank.

The caste equations which are popularly known as social engineering played a vital role in ensuring victory of the BSP in 2007. By luring Dalit and upper caste voters in its fold, the present ruling party formed its government in the state in 2007 on its own. Even this time, the party is banking on this formula and other parties are also playing the similar caste card to ensure their victory. When all the parties are trying to polarize voters in their favour on caste plank, it is hard to conclude that UP voters will cast their votes by rising above the issues like caste and religion. Though, they need to understand the fact that the elected members will not represent a caste or a religion in the state assembly but will serve as the leaders of ruling or opposition parties. It is necessary for them to vote for a party on the basis of its demeanor, policies and the qualities of its leadership. Moreover, the image of the candidates will also have to be taken into account before casting votes. If these important factors are overlooked by the voters, it will be difficult for them to clean up the mess in the state politics and carry forward the state on the path of development.

(An original copy of the article published in Hindi on February 12, 2012 translated by the English Editorial. The author is Group Editor of Dainik Jagran)