Gorakhpur: By the time the Lokmanya Tilak – Gorakhpur Express, a daily train from Mumbai to eastern Uttar Pradesh’s Gorakhpur town, pulls up at Gonda, 19-year old Rajesh Kumar Gupta has already spent 27 hours in it, a long ride back to his village in Gorakhpur for Thursday’s voting. He lives and works in Mumbai along with his two older brothers, while their parents are back at the village.
Rajesh has been using this train to travel to Mumbai and back for five years now. Like him, hundreds of others aboard the train are migrant workers travelling back to their homes in the various eastern UP districts that will vote in the next ten days. They are returning from Mumbai, Gujarat and even Karnataka, where they work because there are no jobs in UP.
Rajesh has coloured his hair brown and wears ear studs, a Mumbai habit he says. In Mumbai, the teen works for a contractor who provides the three brothers with a single room in a suburb to live in, free of cost. “People tell us there is no work in UP and Bihar… that’s why you come here. The only thing they do is trouble us about money. Payments are not on time… but this is the norm everywhere I guess not just Mumbai.”
It’s the first time Rajesh is old enough to vote, but he says without missing a beat, “I do not feel like voting for anyone. When no one has done anything for us why should I vote?”
Seated right at the door of the train compartment for some fresh air as the long train journey nears its end, 28-year-old Ali Ahmed, a painter who’s spent the last decade in Mumbai, says he earns enough there to support his wife and two daughters and his mother, who live in their village in Uttar Pradesh.
“It is very difficult to travel thousands of kilometres and work there but one has to eat. UP and Bihar have no work. There are no companies. Mumbai has big companies,” Ahmed says wistfully and adds, “it’s in the hands of the netas …I can’t say. But I think things can change. I believe in the netas of today, though it will take at least 10 years in my opinion.”
In a high decibel campaign for the UP elections, all political parties have promised jobs, industries, even smartphones for the youth. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has attacked the ruling Samajwadi Party of Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav and Mayawati’s Bahujan Samaj Party for what he calls a complete neglect of the people of UP in the last 15 years that they have ruled the state by turns.
Akhilesh Yadav, who is asking voters to re-elect him based on his performance as chief minister, promised at an election rally recently to immediately create 1 lakh jobs in the state’s police force. He said that in the last five years, there was been a big push to create new jobs and more efforts will be made if he is voted back to power.
UP’s industrial growth figures for 2014 – 15, particularly for eastern UP, rank below even neighbouring Bihar. A central government report suggests that the number of unemployed people in Uttar Pradesh could touch 1 crore by next year. Eastern UP and neighbouring Bihar have the highest rates of migration across the country.
The latest census data shows that the number of migrants from this region have doubled in the last decade and one figure best explains why – UP’s per capita income, or the income earned per person in a given area in one year is about 40,000. Maharashtra, the state to which many most of them head for work, has a per capita income of over one lakh rupees.