With the Uttar Pradesh elections coming up in February/March 2022, Thought Habitat spoke to Bienu Verma Vaghela, a writer who comes with a clear understanding of the political scenario in the most polarized state in India. In this interview, she talks about the psyche of the voters during the elections in the 1980s/90s and how it has changed in 2022.
UP is your home state, you are closely watching forthcoming elections, besides being a social media influencer and blogger. How were the elections in the 80s and 90s compared to this day?
First and foremost, thanks Aravind for the opportunity to take your audience down memory lane…and present the commoner’s perspective on the most-watched event of 2022 – The U.P. Elections.
UP has always been a hotbed of politics and the first elections were held in 1957 in independent India. Since, then UP has been witness to the appointment of several CM’s, sacking of CM’s, resignation of CMs, fall of CMs, and successful stints of CMs. Times were different than in the way they were conducted. It was people’s election…candidates and voters interacted face to face and communication was just one-way. People didn’t have a voice in the absence of technology and social media. They were attending rallies, reading newspapers, and believing word of mouth or influential people in the society. But the results were astonishing…they made their choice.
The late ’80s saw the emergence of a new kind of politics and CMs emerged from humble backgrounds who were successful in doing effective social engineering which proved a game-changer. Coalition set up was at its peak…due to fractured mandate… so strange bedfellows, completely different ideologies joined hands with a single focus on forming the Government.
As far as outreach was concerned, the main source of publicity for any party were posters which painted the town red, newspaper ads. editorials and loudspeaker announcements besides rallies. There were no 24×7 news channels, influencing your viewpoints and showing panel discussions. But I must say UP has a very conscious voter who understands politics well.
As everybody is talking about UP elections, I am sure you too must be closely watching it – How do you view elections – 2022?
Today elections are very different, keenly watched…and these are not just any elections, these are the elections to watch out for, for their many firsts. From being a one-way communication from candidates, it is strong two-way communication. Social media activity is at its peak though it has its upside and flipside both, Upside – commoners have an opinion and a voice too, and flip side – too many noises making it chaotic sometimes.
People are quite open about expressing their choices and airing their views, whereas in 80 – the 90s people kept it close to their chests. Opinion polls are another effective tool that penetrates the voter’s psyche. Elections have become a round-the-clock preoccupation.
So, this way these elections are different, and not too different too. What do you have to say about this?
Yes, you can say so. Some aspects remain the same, some completely transformed. Now, there is a viewpoint and information overload. There is a lot of instigation towards rivals which is in bad taste. Budgets are really big and reach extremely wide – worldwide. Media is playing a strong role in not only airing opinions but in building opinions too.
Elections are different, very different in their magnitude, budgets, outreach, demographics, voters’ profile, and people’s exposure. But I am still surprised that it is still banking on strong social engineering, I mean caste-based politics. We should think as Indians and vote accordingly and not that we belong to some particular caste. I recommend a regulator for elections like RBI or IRDAI to monitor content circulation. In many cases, it leads to untoward incidents.
People say governance has changed with Yogi Adityanath. How true is that?
When a call came to me from a Lucknow Journo that Yogi ji is called to Delhi, I was taken aback. I thought Yogi for UP, most politically charged the state with its set of unique problems and the state needs to progress. But I must say what a phenomenal administrator he came out to be, surprising everyone. His knowledge, understanding, technological abilities, commitment, and social connection are praiseworthy.
He has inculcated fundamentals of good governance and faster decisions on critical issues. Thus, giving a good image to UP as a State that it lacked. UP has undergone a huge transformation under his regime with good law and order, flyovers, expressways, metros, railway stations, schools, medical colleges, airports… the organization of Kumbh Mela – the biggest congregation of humanity. He has proved his mettle. He lives to breathe UP.
You worked as a Class I officer under Mayawati and even Mulayam Singh Yadav. Would you like to share your experience of working with them?
Being in that position and as a young officer, I was always thrilled to go to Vidhan Bhawan for some work or the other. I looked up to Mayawati Ji as she has risen like a meteor in UP politics on her own which was truly inspiring. She was quite clear in her thoughts about how this particular work would be done. Yes, she never forgot to check if I will be dropped home if it was late.
Mulayam Singh Ji, Neta Ji, and in Neta Ji’s mode, had strong political back-up and had been a student leader, so a leader in that sense. His connection with people was great and once I got an opportunity to briefly interact with him when he told me how he wants to see UP as an Industrialised state. He asked me about my position and my family and heard me with attention. He came across as a very amicable leader.
With outdoor mass campaigning banned, how do you think political parties would cope by reaching the masses?
Unfortunately, the pandemic spread as a third wave and new variant has changed the flavor of the election but thankfully, we have media, social media, and technology to fall back on. It is challenging for small regional parties which banked on rallies to reach out to voters.
But yes, the parties which have the paraphernalia, technology, media bandwidth, and strong social media presence may prove to be a game-changer. But as it is a natural challenge that all parties need to address. Still, parties cannot negate the importance of social connect, reach out to voters, hence taking up aggressive door-to-door campaigns. Not just social engineering but social outreach is also very important and these elections are an amalgamation of that.