08/02/2017 11:16 AM IST | Updated 11/03/2017 7:39 AM IST

Meet The New Silent Voter In Uttar Pradesh

The trading community is unhappy with demonetisation, but how unhappy?

People crowd around a temple in Kasganj, overlooking the clock tower, as it is visited by the BJP's candidate, Devendra Singh Rajput, in the busy Chamunda market of the city.

It is often said that Mayawati's voters are 'silent'. It's not true. They were never silent. If you asked them, the Dalits, they'd tell you. But they are seen as being 'silent' because they are not loud.

Upper castes are found dominating the highway tea stalls and the village square, wearing their politics on their sleeve, aggressively telling anyone and everyone who they should vote for. One advantage of having upper castes on your side is that they help build the election 'hawa' with the disproportionately large share in the public sphere.

This election, there is a new silent voter in UP: the upper caste. Their 'silence' is on account of twin displeasure, demonetisation and the pre-dominance that OBCs have been given in ticket distribution. The latter is not a new problem in the BJP. The party's inability to keep together its upper caste and OBCs leaders led to its decline in the late '90s.

In Kasganj, a bellwether seat that has elected the MLA of the winning party in every assembly election since 1974, the caste arithmetic is firmly in favour of the BJP. Even if many upper castes don't vote for the BJP's Lodh candidate, he is likely to win.

If you ask members of the Vaish trading community, or any Brahmin, they might say they will vote BJP or "let's see". It is with hesitation and difficulty they are considering deserting their party, and only for this election.

Savarna Betrayal

Not a single upper caste has been given a ticket by the BJP in any seat around the area. "There is a feeling, how long will we live under Lodh domination?" says one businessman who manufactures agricultural equipment.

Most in Kasganj will tell you the election is between the BJP and the SP, in this seat as across the state. But many upper castes say the election is a three-cornered fight, as they are propping up the third corner: the BSP's Brahmin candidate, Ajay Chaturvedi, a businessman from neighbouring Etah. The Samajwadi Party's candidate would have been an option for them had he not been a Muslim.

A Vishwa Hindu Parishad worker in Kasganj told me how there were about 20% traders who didn't want to vote for BJP because of demonetisation, but the impact of demonetisation has lessened lately, and besides, Hindus will not let a Muslim candidate win.

But that doesn't seem to be the primary concern of many Brahmins and Baniyas. Either they are with the BJP just because they traditionally are, or they are unhappy over notebandi and OBC domination of tickets. This is true of Kasganj, and all of UP. But since the unhappy upper castes are not making noise about this, it is difficult to gauge the extent to which it will hurt the BJP this election.

Those who are unhappy about notebandi may vote for upper caste candidates of other parties or not vote at all. The reason why they are silent about this is not only the fear of tax raids but also because people around them would see them as black money hoarders. Even if they may still vote for the BJP, their usual boisterous enthusiasm is missing.

No Neat Lines

There are no neat lines here: there's a baniya selling peanuts who says it's stupid to ask who he will vote for. "Who do Baniyas vote for? Don't you know?" And then there's a baniya owner of a small essentials store, showing you the coins he gets. "This is what they have reduced my business to," he says.

"Sixty per cent traders will vote for the BSP's Chaturvedi," a jeweller tells me in the Chamunda market near the colonial era clock tower, now painted in the Indian tricolour. The BJP candidate had just passed by, his supporters shouting "Jai Shri Ram!" and "Bharat Mata ki Jai!" The jeweller pointed out the lack of enthusiasm amongst the traders towards the BJP candidate. "Did you see how few traders joined him?"

The same jeweller, a 25-year-old Brahmin sitting in his family shop, didn't seem to dislike Modi for demonetisation. But Modi did demonetisation, if you are unhappy about demonetisation how could you be happy with Modi? "Because we think he will still do something good," came the reply. Voters talk about Modi like an object of reverence in whom they have placed aastha, faith in the spiritual sense. They seem prepared to take another shock or two from Modi before they decide to remove their faith away from him.

Pintu Tiwari For Prime Minister

It is fascinating how Modi and the BJP are two different entities. Even in an assembly election, many say they will vote for Modi – not the BJP or the local candidate. The rote learning of 2014 is still remembered.

The BJP may be losing some upper caste voters to demonetisation, but Modi is earning some new ones. You can find fans of demonetisation as an anti-black money drive across castes and class. One even met a 25 year old Muslim tuition teacher who said he'll vote for Modi in 2019 because he is thrilled about Modi's war on black money. This writer found even Yadavs and Dalits praising Modi for demonetisation, and which may make them vote for Modi in 2019.

Demonetisation is causing a churning in politics that's far bigger than you can feel it at first. Take the case of Pintu Tiwari, a Brahmin tea stall seller in Soron, the place where Sant Tulsidas was born. "I am 35 now. When I reached voting age the BJP was too weak here, so I never voted for them. Even in the 2014 Lok Sabha election I didn't vote for Modi. In this election, I plan to vote for a local candidate of a small party, because he is good. He's a Yadav but so what, I am not casteist. In any case, the BJP is no no longer a party of Brahmins. It is a party of Baniyas and Lodhs. But in 2019 I will vote for Modi."


Why will he suddenly switch to voting for Modi in 2019? "Because Modi has done a great job of finishing black money, starting with demonetisation," said Pintu Tiwari, pouring tea in cutting chai glasses. A baniya customer remarked Pintu could be prime minister one day, tea seller that he is. The baniya customer was irked Pintu wasn't voting BJP this time.

Did they find anyone in their area who had black money and was ruined overnight by demonetisation? "Not at all," replied Pintu Tiwari. "Nobody has any black money here." The baniya agreed.

Whatever the result of the 2017 assembly elections, the Modi narrative for 2019 may well be under formation. Collapsing caste equations and party affiliations, society is divided between those who are for notebandi and those who are against it.

This article is part of the series, #BellwetherKasganj.

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