Rajat Sharma

UP polls: How much does caste matter ?

rajat-sirThe Samajwadi Party on Friday openly violated the Election Commission’s directive banning all physical rallies in poll-bound states, by organizing a ‘virtual rally’ attended by thousands of party workers and addressed by party supremo Akhilesh Yadav.

Late in the night, after a furore in social media, the Chief Electoral Officer of UP directed suspension of the in-charge of Gautampalli police station, Dinesh Singh Bisht for ‘gross negligence in discharge of duties’, and issued show cause notices to Assistant Commissioner of Police Akhilesh Singh and Returning Officer of Lucknow Central constituency Govind Maurya. The action was taken on the basis of a report sent by Lucknow District Magistrate Abhishek Prakash which said the holding of rally was in gross violation of Election Code of Conduct and Covid protocols.

Lucknow Police Commissioner D K Thakur said, about 2,500 people gathered at the party headquarters of Samajwadi Party which was in breach of Election Commission’s ban on all physical rallies till January 15. “Our police team captured the event on video and an FIR has been lodged against these people”, the police chief said.

The SP rally was organized to welcome eight MLAs and ministers, including Swami Prasad Maurya and Dharam Singh Saini to the party fold. These ministers had resigned this week from the BJP government. With Covid-19 cases rising exponentially across India, the Election Commission had imposed ban on all rallies in poll-bound states till January 15. On Friday alone, more than 16,000 cases were reported across UP, out of which Lucknow alone accounted for 2,209 cases. ECI had banned even street corner meetings, and door-to-door campaigning has been allowed only up to a limit of five persons.

Videos of the so-called ‘virtual rally’ clearly show thousands of party workers attending the rally, with party chief Akhilesh Yadav and nearly 50 other leaders sitting on a dais together. ECI had banned gathering of more than five persons, and here, at this ‘virtual rally’, there were more than 50 leaders sitting together. Most of the leaders were without masks, while Akhilesh Yadav, who had kept his mask in his pocket, was occasionally wearing and taking it off. When videos of the rally were telecast on news channels, the DM of Lucknow sent a police team immediately to record the rally. The DM of Lucknow said, no permission was taken for holding the rally.

Swami Prasad Maurya, who joined SP, claimed that a large number of supporters had gathered at the party office, and had spilled over on Kalidas Marg. “Had there been no Covid protocol, the gathering would have been huge”, Maurya claimed. SP chief Akhilesh Yadav said, EC guidelines are there, but we will hold more virtual rallies and also physical rallies.

I agree, Samajwadi party has the right to campaign during elections, but he should know, the Covid situation prevailing in the state is not normal. By allowing leaders to bring in their supporters from all over the state, Covid protocol was clearly violated. Once these supporters return to their districts, they will be acting as super spreaders. If the Election Commission acts tough, the party leaders will allege that the EC is not partial.

Since most of the leaders who joined the SP have already spoken through media, what was the need for assembling all of them with their supporters for the rally? It could be that this rally was planned earlier, before the EC announced its guidelines. But once the ban was imposed, the SP leaders decided not to change their strategy, and assembled their supporters in defiance of the EC ban. To evade EC action, they named it a “virtual rally”.

At the rally, Swami Prasad Maurya described Akhilesh Yadav as the “future chief minister”, and claimed that the battle would be fought between 85 per cent representing backwards, Dalits and others, and the remaining 15 per cent.

To counter the SP challenge, UP chief minister Yogi Adityanath is constantly on tour, meeting leaders of different classes and castes. On Friday, Yogi had a ‘khichdi’ lunch at the house of a Dalit, Amrit Lal Bharti, in the Peeru Shaheed Dalit Basti of Gorakhpur. It was named ‘Khichdi Mahabhoj’ to coincide with Makar Sankranti. Local BJP leaders said, Yogi lunches with Dalits every year on Makar Sankranti. On this occasion, Yogi said, those who believe in dynastic politics and indulge in corruption, can never be supporters of social justice. “These leaders have been promoting their families, mafia gangsters and corrupt businessmen, they can never promote social welfare for the downtrodden”, the chief minister said.

Times have changed, style of politics has changed in the last eight years, the mood of people has changed in recent years. The entire political lexicon has undergone a change because of a sea change in the outlook of common people. Till 2014, politics was largely based on castes and communities, few leaders spoke about development, but the trend has now changed. Along with it, the rules have also changed. Earlier, candidates used to mention the cases filed against them in their nomination affidavits. Now, all candidates will have to mention in public advertisements the cases filed against them, and also conviction, if any.

To assume that voters will now cast their votes only on the basis of castes will be incorrect. For how long will voters vote for their own castes, even if their own caste candidates is a mafia gangster? A criminal and a gangster has no caste. I believe, the voters of UP this time will break this illusion that votes can be cornered only on the basis of castes.

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