Blog: Rural UP's Biggest Election Issue - The Mighty Bull

Watching TV debates on the Uttar Pradesh election you would think that polarising issues dominate the discourse.

Trust me when I say that the voters of Uttar Pradesh are far more evolved.

In over 10 days of travel so far, we did see the obvious impact of the hijab controversy, when people in western UP were interested in news from Karnataka, but very specifically mentioned these are not their poll issues.

You point a mic anywhere and soon there is a street debate on law and order versus development and unemployment.

But what does rural Uttar Pradesh really care about?

Our assessment, based on our travels in the rural pockets of Rampur, Etawah, Mainpuri, Shahjahanpur, Bareilly and Kanpur Dehat, is that one issue remains a constant - the Bull.

We are pretty sure this will be the case in the rest of UP as well.

A man snarked in Karhal, where Samajwadi chief Akhilesh Yadav is contesting: "Of course we have all got jobs under this government. All of us have to stay up all night like owls and guard our fields against stray cattle."

In Kanpur Dehat's Akbarpur Rania, farmers are even more vocal.

"The government says it has given free ration to all. But it has not addressed the issue of stray cattle ruining our produce in the fields. So crops and produce worth thousands are destroyed. And the government wants us to celebrate a few rupees worth of free grain?" says one farmer.

Why is this happening? Why, suddenly, has stray cattle become rural UP's big poll issue? The Samajwadi Party hopes to tap into this anger.

"When we launched a campaign saying we will save farmers from The Bull, it was meant for humour and ridicule. This reflects the political ignorance towards the real problems of rural distress. You travel across the state, and you realise that from West to East, this is a perpetual problem. In fact, it is very difficult to even drive or walk along the roads at night," Juhie Singh of the Samajwadi Party said.

New technology has left the bull useless for mating, she says. While people keep the buffalo, the bull was often raised as livestock useful for meat. But since the BJP came to power, people have been wary of dealing in livestock. They fear arrest, persecution, lynching...

Poor farmers can't afford to feed the cattle and so, end up releasing them. The hungry cattle look for food at night and end up in the fields.

The Yogi Adityanath regime did try to address the problem. But many locals say the administration's response was to make a temporary gaushala or a shed and dump the animals there. NDTV has highlighted, in various reports, the condition in which the cattle are kept, many starving and weak due to the lack of care.

"They made a gaushala here after many complaints. But all they did was use a patch of land, dig up a moat and dump the animals inside. Is this the solution?" wondered Chagge Lal, a local farmer in Kanpur Dehat.

Five days ago, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, at his Kanpur rally, acknowledged the problem and promised a long-term solution. He said the Yogi government, in all seriousness, is trying to address the stray cattle problem by setting up shelters. He said after March 10 (when election results are announced), this exercise will be fast-tracked. Attempts are being made to make UP a big dairy hub to benefit farmers, he assured.

"An impression has been created that it is Yogi who has released these stray cattle. The truth, which even the farmers know, is that they have been released by their fellow farmers - for whatever reasons. I admit the problem was acute until a few years ago. But our efforts have reduced the problem to a large extent. The farmers are also aware that the situation is improving. A political campaign by the opposition around this issue will not work," Narendra Singh Rana, former media cell head of the state BJP, told NDTV.

But in villages, even the staunchest BJP supporters feel this will impact votes to some extent. They still feel, however, that only the Modi-Yogi government can offer hope.

The Samajwadi Party's rural campaign focuses on compensation for farmers who were killed by bulls in their own farms. But the party promises to fix the root cause. It promises an end to the fear among farmers - so they can stock and sell their livestock without any trouble or harassment.

When it comes to this all-important issue in rural UP, the SP certainly seems to have an upper hand.

(Sanket Upadhyay is Executive Editor, NDTV)

Disclaimer: These are the personal opinions of the author.

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