by Meenakshi Iyer
New Delhi: With 2017 assembly elections in mind, Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav has promised free smartphones to the state’s rural poor. But little does the Yadav scion know that this time, it is not freebies – not even the oft-played caste card – that is going to swing the tide.
In the election-bound Uttar Pradesh, it seems like rules of the game are set to be rewritten – this time with netas readying to test a fresh poll ammo – crime.
Even as the Bharatiya Janta Party (BJP) tries to unify OBCs and upper castes and the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) swears by its Dalit votes, the state’s law and order situation is snowballing into a major sticky issue in the run-up to the election.
Four parties are vying to rule a state that elects the most number of members in the Lok Sabha, with strongest contenders being Akhilesh Yadav-led Samajwadi Party (SP) and Mayawati-led BSP. While the BJP strategises to regain its lost charm, Congress hopes for a miracle.
Ever since the announcement of poll dates, more than caste, it has been the rising crime graph in India’s most populous state has been constantly grabbing the headlines – the barbaric Bulandshahr and Badaun gang rape cases, murder of a deputy superintendent of police in Pratapgarh and Jawahar Bagh clash in the holy city of Mathura to name a few.
“In the past five months, 1,012 cases of rapes and 4,520 of harassment of women have been registered in Uttar Pradesh,” the Uttar Pradesh government said in a written reply to a question by Bharatiya Janta Party (BJP) member Satish Mahana in the state Assembly.
Nearly 60% of the rape survivors in Uttar Pradesh since 2010 were minors, said the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) report which was released recently. The districts with highest number of rape cases in 2010-15 were Aligarh (392), Moradabad (377), Allahabad (348), Meerut (346), Agra and Lucknow (328 each), according to the report.
According to the recent estimates by the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), Uttar Pradesh reported 35,527 cases of crime against women in 2015, or 10.9 per cent of the total such crimes in India.
The latest figures available with the Union Home Ministry mentions that Uttar Pradesh experienced 104 incidents of communal violence that left 34 people dead and 456 injured, in the first 10 months of the year 2012.
A state-wide survey carried out between April 12 and April 25, with a sample size of 25,000 people to gauge the general mood of the masses, showed that 25 per cent of the respondents identified law and order as the biggest problem.
As Akhilesh, who became the youngest UP chief minister in 2012, struggles to take stringent action against the perpetrators – with just 1.8 lakh police personnel available to take care of UP’s 21 crore population – the opposition has begun volley of attacks.
“It is true that crime and misbehaviour against women happens all over the country, but difference is that in UP the leaders give pro-racist remarks and shield people who commit crimes against women,” senior BJP leader Uma Bharti was quoted as saying in media reports.
Congress MLA Akhilesh Pratap Singh said law and order in the state was at its lowest ebb and the government’s claims proved to be hollow.
In a bid to project a clean image ahead of the election, the parties are taking extra efforts to remove members with criminal past. The Samajwadi party’s parliamentary board called off the alliance with alleged gangster-turned-politician Mukhtar Ansari’s Quami Ekta Dal, just three days after the merger.
The target is not just the Samajwadi party. Addressing a grand rally in Allahabad, BSP supremo Mayawati said: “BJP has made Keshav Prasad Maurya as their state unit president. He is himself facing serious criminal challenges, would such a party improve law and order situation in the state?”
The BJP returned favour by stating said that Mayawati had “run her past governments in the company of criminals and is still keeping them with her”.
Nearly 20 percent of the political candidates who ran in the last parliamentary elections faced criminal charges — with some as serious as rape, murder and extortion — according to a study by Association for Democratic Reforms, an independent think-tank.
With impending election, crime has been given political undertones in the decisive state with key SP minister Azam Khan hinting “political conspiracy” behind the gang-rape of the mother-daughter duo in Bulandshahr.
Khan, infamous for making insensitive and vituperative statements, said that “a desperate opposition could stoop to any level to defame and disgrace the government since the state elections are approaching”.
In a nutshell, increasing crime has somewhat replaced the traditional caste factor – at least prior to the next assembly elections – in a state that generally decides which way the political wind will flow.