May 16, 2021

Uttar Pradesh: BJP Loses in Rural Local Bodies

Subhashini Ali

THE determination of the Yogi government of Uttar Pradesh to go ahead with the three-tier panchayat elections in the state has not brought it any political dividends while it has extracted a very heavy toll from its citizens. A total of 58,176-gram panchayats and 826 blocks were up for election along with 3,050 zila panchayat seats. The numbers that became vulnerable to infection in the course of the month-long campaign and the voting process itself runs into crores. Teachers’ and employees’ unions claim that more than 700 teachers have died of Covid 19, contracted while they were on election duty.  More than 300 of these deaths have been confirmed.  Most of the teachers are women and there are heart-rending accounts of their pleas for being excused from duty because of Covid symptoms being cruelly rejected.  One teacher, Kalyani Agrahari, eight months pregnant, had been appointed in April.  She begged to be relieved but her requests were turned down and she died soon after.  Her salary for that one month still remains unpaid.

The havoc wreaked by the election in villages and small towns across the State is becoming more and more apparent with each passing day.  The dead bodies floating in the River Ganges and other rivers bear silent witness to the tragedy that is still unfolding.

In January this year, the BJP had started planning for a big win that would coast it to victory in the assembly elections due in May 2022.  Its complete confidence that the election results would yield a huge number of BJP wins led it to declare ‘authorised candidates’ in all ZP seats despite the fact that this was an election fought without party symbols.  Ministers, MPs, MLAs were all ordered to fan out into their constituencies to identify candidates and then to ensure their victory.  Needless to say, the ruling party was unmatched as far as resources, administrative clout and booth-level management were concerned.

The results, however, have revealed a noticeable shift away from the BJP in rural areas across the state.  While there was no unity among the opposition parties except for an SP-RLD tie-up in western UP, and despite the fact that in these elections there is often more than one candidate of a particular party on a single-seat, the SP has on its own scored impressive gains.  Of the total number of ZP seats, the BJP has claimed victory in 954, SP in 1000, BSP 300, Congress 70, and RLD 37.   An important aspect of these results is the victory of a huge number of independents, which include members of smaller players like AAP, MIM, Apna Dal, etc.  While the vast majority of independents does not consist of BJP members and supporters since this was ensured by its leadership at the outset of the election,  it is extremely likely that the BJP will be able to buy over many of these to capture a large number of ZPs.  Despite this probability, it is important to note the kind of results that this election has thrown up.

Three districts which would have been expected to go the BJP way, Varanasi (the prime minister’s constituency which has all BJP MLAs), Mathura, and Ayodhya have actually witnessed a BJP debacle.  In Varanasi, out of a total of 40 seats, the BJP could win only 7 while the SP won 11, BSP 4, independents, and other parties-18.  In Mathura, of 30 seats, the BJP won only 8 while the BSP won 12 and the RLD 9.  In Ayodhya, out of 40 seats, SP won 24 while the BJP got just 8.

In its traditional strongholds of Etawah, Eta, and other districts of central UP, the SP was the winner in a majority of seats.  In the districts of Kanpur and Kanpur Dehat which have a large number of BJP ministers, MPs, and MLAs, the results were disappointing for the ruling party and SP fared better.

Leaders of the farmers’ movement campaigned against the BJP in districts in western UP where the BJP had won hands down in the assembly elections and here too the BJP fared badly.  In Bulandshahr, it could win only 10 of 52 seats, in Muzaffarnagar 13 of 43, in Moradabad 10 of 39.  While SP, BSP and RLD won seats in these districts, a large number of independents many of whom are said to be BKU members have won.  Reports from these districts tell us that it was not easy for BJP leaders and workers to canvas here and they had to move without their flags.

The nature of these elections precludes a detailed analysis but what is certain is that even if it goes to capture many ZPs, the BJP is losing ground and its strongholds are endangered. The emergence of SP as a major challenger on its own is also an important fact.  Another notable feature has been the complete eclipse of the Congress which saw its rout in most districts.

Two very different results in these elections are contradictory pointers of voters’ preferences.  Yogesh Raj, the main accused in the dreadful murder of inspector Subodh Singh won a comfortable victory in the Siyana ZP, Bulandshahr.  On the other hand, a Hindu-dominated village in Ayodhya, Rajapur elected a Muslim cleric, Hafiz Azeemuddin, as its pradhan.  He got 200 votes in a village with only 27 Muslim voters.

The BJP will certainly do everything in its power to try and fix the causes of its ignominious showing.  If the SP and the opposition do the same, the results of the 2022 UP Assembly elections could bring hope to all those opposed to the authoritarianism, incompetence, and sheer inhumanity of the BJP government.