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Last Updated: Tuesday, 17 April 2007, 23:49 GMT 00:49 UK
Summer of discontent in Uttar Pradesh
By Geeta Pandey
BBC News, Gorakhpur, Uttar Pradesh

Uttar Pradesh village
There is no infrastructure in the villages

Wednesday sees the next stage in voting in elections for the 175 million people of the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh. But do elections mean anything for the mass of rural poor?

In Dharwan Sharief village, dozens of huts are cramped together, children run across open drains and puddles of dirty stagnant water.

Not one household in this cluster of about 100 has electricity.

The only tube well the government installed here doesn't work after some of its parts were stolen.

Complaints to various government departments to fix it have fallen on deaf ears.

The entire community is dependent on three wells for all its water needs.

No amenities

The village has no midwife to assist in pregnancies or child birth, and the nearest government health centre is two kms away where a doctor sees patients in the mornings and evenings.

And "if someone is so unfortunate to fall ill at night, he can only cry and shout and die," says resident Kashi Ram.

Uttar Pradesh voters
Voters feel the elections will not change anything

Explains Kumar Harsh, a senior journalist based in Gorakhpur town: "The rural areas lack even basic amenities. There is no infrastructure here. Can you imagine, in Rudrapur, there is not one single school for girls in 92 villages?

"The power situation is grim - in many areas there are electric lines and even lamp-posts, but there is no power. Water-borne diseases are rampant, but there's an acute shortage of medicines and medical health centres."

Neglect

According to the last census, almost 80% of Uttar Pradesh's 175 million population lives in the villages, but the problems and travails of this vast majority get little attention.

As we travel through village after village in India's most populous state, we encounter the same story of apathy and neglect.

Elections come and go, but little changes in these villages. And as the state goes through yet another election, no one here is feeling optimistic.

"No one has been powerful enough to bring about any kind of substantial change in the state," says Pratap Bhanu Mehta of the Delhi-based Centre for Policy Research.

Uttar Pradesh village
The electorate here is sharply polarised

"The political parties here have two choices. One, they implement policies which will make a difference to the people's lives like building new schools or setting up factories. But that will take several years to complete.

"The other option, which is easier, is to do what it takes to give them a shot at power in the short run. Generally, as each side plays to win, they choose the second option," he says.

That explains why instead of promising factories, hospitals and schools, political leaders here play on caste and religious sentiments.

Development issues take a backseat and election campaigns are built on personal appeals and attacks on opponents.

No protest

And an electorate, sharply polarised along religious and caste lines, forgets the main issues.

Analysts say Uttar Pradesh's poor literacy rate comes in handy for the wily politicians as it stops the voter from raising pertinent questions about the lack of development in the state.

Anand Rai, chief reporter of Dainik Jagaran newspaper in Gorakhpur, says that despite the area's backwardness, there has been no public protest in the eastern areas of the state since 1989.

The voters here silently bear with their politicians, but the only time they can express themselves is during elections when they come out in large numbers to vote - often against those in power.

Perhaps that explains why governments don't last long in Uttar Pradesh. In the last decade, the state has seen several governments being formed and collapse.

Kashi Ram
If someone falls ill at night, he can only cry and die, says Kashi Ram

In the last two assembly polls, no party has had a clear majority. Rickety, post-election coalitions have been cobbled together to rule the state - something that analysts say is one of the main reasons behind the state's neglect.

In Dharwan Sharief village, we are surrounded by more than a 100 men, women and children.

Residents here say they have hardly seen their elected representative since the last assembly polls five years ago.

"We've seen our legislator only a couple of times when he's come here to attend a function, cut a ribbon," says villager Ram Bachan. But I know he'll come soon. He'll beg us to vote for him. He will make all kinds of promises.

"But we will not vote for him this time. He's a minister in the government, but he has done no work for us."

Unappetising

Prof Ram Krishna Mani Tripathi of Gorakhpur University says a way out of the current mess is to give the voters the right to negative voting.

The ballot paper would have an extra option after the names of the candidates - 'None of the above'. If 'None of the above' were to get most votes, then a fresh poll would have to be held with fresh candidates.

"Only then will these errant politicians change their way and work for the development of their constituencies," Prof Tripathi says. In a state where politicians are so widely seen as inefficient and corrupt and where many are under investigation for criminal offences, the idea of negative voting may yet gain force.


SEE ALSO
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Uttar Pradesh majority 'in doubt'
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Analysis: Caste and power in India
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