UP local body polls: wake-up call for BJP, hope for Maya

The results of the recent urban body elections and the by-poll for the Sikandara assembly seat in Uttar Pradesh have come as a wake-up call for BJP despite the fact that the saffron party bagged 14 of the 16 mayoral seats and retained Sikandara. The civic polls have given Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) a new lease of life, just months after the party was decimated in the assembly polls and witnessed an exodus of senior leaders.

The BJP swept the mayoral polls, but fared dismally in the smaller districts and towns. In many places, its candidates were relegated to third place, behind Samajwadi Party and BSP. The saffron party could win only 70 of the 198 Nagar Palika Parishad president posts. Samajwadi Party finished second with 45 seats.

The saffron party's performance in the elections for members of Nagar Palika Parishad was even poorer. It won less than a fifth of the seats - only 922 of the total 5,260. Similarly, it managed to win only 100 of the 438 Nagar Panchayat president posts. Samajwadi Party won 83 seats, the BSP 45. Only 664 BJP nominees made it to the Nagar Panchayats as members, out of a total of 5,433 seats.  

To make matters worse, the saffron party was unable to even open its account in as many as 36 districts, and many of its candidates lost their security deposits.

The BJP's performance in the bypoll for the Sikandara seat in Kanpur Dehat district was far from satisfactory. Though it retained the seat, its victory margin fell considerably. Party candidate Ajit Pal, whose father had won the seat in the assembly elections in March this year, defeated his nearest rival, SP's Seema Sachan by over 11,000 votes. Pal secured around 73,000 votes to Sachan's 61,000-plus votes.

The by-poll, which had been necessitated by the death of Ajit Pal's father Mathura Prasad Pal a few months back, saw a closer fight than the party expected. Mathura Prasad Pal had secured over 87,000 votes in the 2017 assembly polls in April, trouncing his nearest rival, a BSP nominee, by over 38,000 votes. This time, the BSP chose not to field a candidate in the by-poll.

BJP leaders, however, put up a brave face, saying that it had emerged as the single largest party in the urban body polls. "We have swept the mayoral polls...we now have mayors in 14 big towns...we have also increased our penetration into tier two and three cities,'' said BJP leader Vijay Bahadur Pathak.

Other party sources, however, confided off the record that the party was not very happy with its overall performance and would hold meetings to analyse the reasons for its dismal showing in the smaller towns. "The results call for introspection...we need to analyse them...we cannot afford to be complacent as we have two Lok Sabha by-polls approaching,'' a senior state BJP leader told Deccan Herald.

The results of the urban body polls, however, came as a pleasant surprise for BSP supremo Mayawati, whose party had come a cropper in the assembly elections. Analysts had begun to write her political obituary, especially after the BSP witnessed an exodus of its senior Dalit leaders following the assembly polls.

The party, which fielded candidates in the local body polls under its official symbol for the first time ever, not only bagged two mayoral seats - Aligarh and Meerut - but also performed well in the municipalities and Nagar Panchayats.

The BSP finished second, leaving the Samajwadi Party and Congress far behind. It was runners-up in Saharanpur, Jhansi and Agra mayoral seats. The BSP's win in Meerut city came as a shock to the BJP, which had high hopes there. Party leaders attributed the impressive performance of the BSP to support from the powerful Dalit-Muslim combine in the western region, and to support from OBCs elsewhere.

''We received support from all communities...we would have won at many other places, had the polls not been rigged by BJP,'' an elated Mayawati said. She also said that the results reflected that the people were not happy with BJP.

Political analysts said that the results would give Mayawati more bargaining power in any negotiations for the coming together of a 'mahagathbandhan' (grand alliance) to take on the BJP in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls. "Mayawati will find herself in a stronger position after these results. She may now seek more seats should such an alliance take shape in the state,'' said Dinesh Kumar, a former professor at Lucknow University.

The BSP's victory in Meerut and Aligarh also showed that the Muslims preferred the party to the SP and the Dalit-Muslim combination seemed to be behind its impressive showing. Analysts also say that Mayawati could draw satisfaction from the fact that Dalits seemed to be returning to her party. Dalits had voted for the BJP in large numbers in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections as a result of which the BSP had lost even in the reserved category seats.

With the two crucial Lok Sabha by-polls - Phulpur and Gorakhpur seats, vacated by
Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath and Deputy Chief Minister Keshav Prasad Maurya - round the corner, Mayawati could be hoping for a political comeback in the state.

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