Trudging from village to village in the Mohanlalganj Lok Sabha constituency to decode the mystery behind the BJP's resounding pan-Uttar Pradesh victory, you keep hearing a single buzzword: Dohhazaar rupaiya or 2,000 rupees. While the sum does not sound like much in this age of mounting inflation, one can see how it was enough to bring about a significant swing in political allegiances in the months leading up to the Lok Sabha elections.
The BJP's victory in Uttar Pradesh came in spite of the odds being hopelessly stacked against it. Akhilesh Yadav's Samajwadi Party and Mayawati's Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) had succeeded in stitching up a formidable caste combination, and the Congress roped in party president Rahul Gandhi's charismatic sister Priyanka as its X-factor. The ruling BJP, on the other hand, still seemed to be recovering from its shock defeats in the Gorakhpur and Phulpur by-elections last year.
However, it was in this scenario that 70-year-old Shivbalak Yadav - a poor farmer with marginal land holdings and a loyal Congress-Samajwadi Party voter - switched over to the BJP after finding an additional deposit of Rs 2,000 in his bank account right before the Lok Sabha poll schedule was announced in March.
The money was part of the Rs 75,000-crore PM-Kisan scheme launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi from eastern Uttar Pradesh's Gorakhpur in February, amid reports of farmer distress across the country. The programme promised poor farmers an annual payout of Rs 6,000 in three instalments, the first of which went out at the start of the election season.
"This money can really help. I can use it to irrigate my crop when my finances are completely depleted, and PM Modi got our votes because of this. He is a wise man who understands the problems of the people. I think he is in for the long haul, and is running the government well," said Shivbalak Yadav.
Uttar Pradesh alone accounts for 18% of the PM-Kisan beneficiaries in India. The Yogi Adityanath government ensured that payments were sent to the bank accounts of about one crore farmers before voting started, and another one crore beneficiaries are currently being identified.
Rani Devi and Mishri Lal - marginal farmers from a family of six in Nizampur village - said that while the Rs 2,000 handout was appreciable, what really swung their vote in favour of the BJP was the lack of clarity from other political entities on their farmer welfare plans. Rahul Gandhi did counter PM Modi's scheme with his offer of NYAY, a promise that Rs 72,000 would be deposited in the bank accounts of five crore people on an annual basis, but it failed to make a mark on farmers.
Mishri Lal said he never got to know much about NYAY. "Nobody from the Congress came here to explain what it is. What can people who cannot run their own party do for the poor? And now the people who were so eager to give us NYAY have been decimated," he quips with a wry smile.
On the ground, it was PM Modi's scheme that seemed to have struck a chord with voters. "He is at least thinking of the poor. He wants them be happy. Earlier, nobody would think of the poor or how they live," said Rani Devi.
The BJP and its allies won 64 of the 80 seats in Uttar Pradesh, leaving the BSP-Samajwadi Party alliance with 15. The Congress managed to get just one.