UP is the key to the election which is stretching into the sixth week of voting. With 80 seats, it will test the strength of the Narendra Modi wave. 33 seats lie in the poorest part of UP, Purvanchal, and that includes this election's celebrity seats of Amethi and Varanasi.
The summer sun is relentlessly beating down on the harvested fields. The roads are bereft of traffic but the size of audiences at mid-afternoon meetings is astonishing. Party workers keep up the relentless chants of "Zindabad Zindabad", while waiting for the familiar whirl of the helicopter that will land with the star of the rally. Then the shouting becomes more frenzied.
Others, like Daya Shankar in Saidabad, Badhoi, prefer to sit at home and watch the campaign unfold. "Kya karnege ja ke? Aaram se ghar me deykhen", says the 70-year-old Brahmin patriarch sitting on his charpoy about his decision to stay tuned to his television.
His village's peaceful afternoon slumber has been destroyed by a cavalcade of cars bearing two dozen journalists seeking the "truth" about how the people of eastern UP will vote. A random sample of "real voices" that will add substance to the theories of who will win this crucial election.
Sushil Mishra, an English teacher in a private school nearby, says the electorate is fed up with the corruption of politicians and the looting by the local officials in charge of developing roads and infrastructure.
While the people acknowledge that some facilities like rural roads have improved, they complain about the erratic electricity. The worst power cuts, they say, can last upto two days. Narendra Modi's highlighting of 24-hour electricity appeals to all and the theme of development has caught the fancy of the youth. Elders acknowledge that the youth may not vote according to traditional caste lines and the backward castes fear their younger members may join the Modi bandwagon, turning away from the regional Samajwadi Party and Bahujan Samaj Party that have traditionally been their choice.
"What can I say? They have different dreams" says Mishra.
Prince Shukla, 19, says that many first-time voters like him will not vote on the basis of caste. His sister lives in Gujarat and he has heard from her of its development.
This is an area from where many have migrated to Mumbai and other parts of the country. Many of them are back home now for the traditional marriage season - they bring back stories that they have heard of how much farther ahead Gujarat is in terms of basic infrastructure.
The Dalit baasti is a kilometer away and looks visibly poorer. If the complaint in the village was of power cuts, here it is about no electricity at all.
For these, the older Dalits, the caste conflict still exists. And though many have built pukka houses and have changed from being landless labourer to tenant farmers, they remain committed to Mayawati's BSP. " Kuch bhi ho, hamara haath haathi per hai, " they say. They acknowledge they do not expect their party to get strong numbers, but they are also clear that it is the BSP that represents their needs and they will not switch sides.
Similarly in the Yadav part of Gandhiyawa, also in Badhoi, the support for Mulayam Singh Yadav's Samajwadi Party remains strong.
The 12 Muslim families of Harwai are landless and depend on selling livestock in the cities; their women folk make bidis to eke out a leaving. They say that this area has traditionally had communal harmony and while ceding that this time around, the BJP appears to be gaining ground, they don't expect those relations to be damaged.
What is strange is that in this area near Allahabad, the one party that is missing from the minds of the people is the Congress. Except in one small village on the main road, where the local Congress office is located, there is no flag of the party anywhere, no motor cycle rallies, no hoardings, no mind space. The Congress appears to have disappeared without a fight.
Of course, there are constituencies in eastern UP where they have fielded big candidates like Amethi and Gonda (where the Congress candidate is union minister Beni Prasad Verma) but those are few and far between. In the rest, they are but an also-ran.
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