In UP Villages, Support For BJP's CAA Stand But Anger Against Yogi Adityanath Over Local Issues

Has the ruling BJP's tough stance on the CAA further consolidated its position among Uttar Pradesh's voters, especially in rural areas?

Ground voices from UP villages suggest local issues will play an important role in the 2022 polls.

Barabanki and Ayodhya:

There have been massive protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act or CAA and the proposed National Register of Citizens in many towns across Uttar Pradesh in the last one month; many of these protests are still going on. But the ruling BJP has dismissed the agitations, the state government has filed First Information Reports (FIRs) against protesters in some case and a publicity drive for the citizenship law is also on in the state.

In the 2017 assembly election, the BJP won a landslide in Uttar Pradesh and then in 2019, despite Mayawati and Akhilesh Yadav fighting the Lok Sabha polls together, the BJP managed to repeat its 2014 landslide. So has the ruling party's stance on the contentious law further consolidated its position among UP's voters, especially in rural areas?

In Barabanki's Raipur village, that has 2,500 voters and is part of an assembly seat that elected a Samajwadi Party MLA in 2017 and a Lok Sabha seat that voted BJP in 2019, many claim the BJP's tough stand on implementing the citizenship law despite large-scale protests has widespread support in the state's rural areas.

Suresh Chandra Verma, a 68-year-old farmer, says he switched sides from being a Samajwadi Party supporter to voting for the BJP in 2019. "Why not? If they do good, there will be benefit. From the CAA, those who come in, they will be with the party and the government. 
In the villages, the BJP's vote percentage will increase. They are doing good work.  They solved the Ayodhya issue and scrapped Jammu and Kashmir's special status. They have done good work," Mr Verma says when asked if the CAA will benefit the BJP politically.
But in the same village, there are dissenting voices too, even from BJP members. In the 2019 Lok Sabha election, 30-year-old farmer Sudhir Kumar Rawat was the BJP's booth in-charge for the village.

The next big election in UP is the 2022 assembly poll. Mr Rawat says his party, particularly Yogi Adityanath's government in the state,will not benefit from all the buzz around a national issue like the CAA if it does not do more on local issues. "No, I don't think the BJP is gaining too much. Because there is nothing for people here. It's for outsiders. What about the unemployment here? That should be an issue... The unemployed need employment. There have been no job opportunities and vacancies are drying up. According to the voter here it's not an issue. The CAA won't compensate losses to the farmer, will it?" Mr Rawat says.

Ten kilometers away, in Dadra, a village of 5,000 people where many say they voted for the BJP both in 2017 and in 2019, we met farmer Ganga Verma just when he was chasing a bull through his mustard field. Yogi Adityanath and his government have spent crores of rupees in building cattle sheds in villages meant to house stray cattle. There is even a stray cattle adoption scheme in place but it does not seem to be working. Mr Verma , a farmer with small land holdings, says the buzz over the CAA will lead to more support for PM Modi but is not enough to lessen anger against Yogi Adityanath over issues like the stray cattle menace. "No one is angry with PM Modi. But we are angry with the state government because if the cattle problem and there is crackdown on crop residue burning.  If there were to be an election right now, they would lose by huge margins, because of this cattle. They will lose. Yes, the CAA is a factor but if the farmer doesn't fill his stomach, what is the use of a vote? PM Modi will definitely benefit from the CAA and even Article 370. Yogi-ji, you can see . If this cattle problem is solved, no one can defeat him too," the farmer, a BJP supporter says.

Manjhanpur is in Uttar Pradesh's Ayodhya district, part of the Faizabad Lok Sabha seat which was won thrice by the BJP in the last two decades, including in 2014 and 2019, and once each by the Samajwadi Party, Maywatui's Bahujan Samaj Party and the Congress. It is a village of 1,800 voters with a mixed Hindu-Muslim population. Many in the Muslim part of the village are unwilling to speak on record about the CAA. Jawwar Hussain, a 64-year-old marginal farmer and labourer, however, opens up. Mr Hussain says while protests over the citizenship law are confined to cities and towns, Muslims in UP villages too are extremely worried. "I can't say about political loss or gain but what documents will we give? I only have a family register. Everyone is worried. Forget a village, the whole country is worried . We are worried because we don't know if the government will accept our papers or not... Everyone in the village is worried," Mr Hussain says.

The next big election in Uttar Pradesh is in 2022 when Yogi Adityanath's term as Chief Minister will end. It may be too early right now to look at the effectiveness of the CAA as an election issue for the BJP, but anecdotal evidence from the ground does suggest a host of other local issues will have prominent play too as state election draws closer.

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