The citizens have spoken. With decisive mandates for continuity in four of the five states that went to the hustings and for sweeping change in favor of Sadak, Shiksha, and swasthya in the fifth, it would seem the age of the antyodaya, beyond slogans and shibboleths, may finally have arrived. Pundits, pollsters, and similar busybodies have been foxed by the free-pass that the BJP seems to have been handed out by the voters on the wide specter of agrarian distress and the very real livelihood crisis at the bottom of the demographic pyramid, made worse in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic crisis.
The BJP’s handsome electoral gains can, at least in part, be credited to its claims of focus on the security of the average citizen, and more notably on making a frontal assault on crimes against girls and women.
Coupled with its focus on the physical security of citizens, what is largely billed to have won the day for the party is its targeted outreach to the poorest of the poor with a bouquet of new social security schemes including direct cash transfers, support for basic food security, housing, potable drinking water, and electricity.
Taken together, the strongly no welfare focus of the party assayed to fast-track progress on lifting vast chunks of the rural poor out of the morass of chronic deprivation of their most basic needs. Overall, the party seems to be firmly on the path of marrying its neo-liberal economic and investment philosophy with classical Leftist handouts-centric welfare spending to kick-start a virtuous cycle of consumption among the poorest sections.
The party has, by now, firmed up its appeal among a growing cohort of the fence-sitters among the middle-class voters who see value in the BJP’s accent on cultural renaissance and its vision of Indians’ individual and collective identity based on a heady mix of religion and hyper-nationalism.
The winning recipe seemed more than a handful for its political challengers in Manipur, Goa, Uttarakhand, and Uttar Pradesh where new BJP governments would have taken an oath by the time this goes to print. Cutting across caste and religious divide, among the electorate who went out to vote in these elections, the BJP has managed to buttress a perception that the state has finally been able to touch the lives of those multiple millions that hitherto it was either simply unable or unwilling to reach.
So far, so good! With close to 38 percent population in the throes of poverty, Uttar Pradesh ranks as the third poorest state of India. The finding is based on NITI Aayog’s latest Multidimensional Poverty Index (MPI) report released only months ago. To be sure, the report pegs the exact percentage of the poor in the State at 37.79 percent.
Shrawasti is home to the highest number of poor in UP, at 74.38 percent. Aside from the mission to lift millions out of chronic poverty and a future of hopelessness, the percentage of population deprived of nutrition in UP is 44.5 percent according to the NITI Aayog report, ranking fourth in terms of maternal health with 35.45 percent, ranks second.
In India’s most populous state, real progress on income, education, and health attainments will determine the trajectory of not just human development but its medium-term growth and development. Time for Yogi 2.0 to roll up his sleeves and deploy the double-engine sarkar in investing all its time and resources where they are needed! Let UP lead the way on the SDGs.