The verdict is in from an early round of biggest electoral fight in the business – the Uttar Pradesh election to be held next year. The results of the recently-held panchayat polls in UP do not look good for the ruling BJP led by Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath.
Now, for these elections, candidates are supported by political parties but do not contest as their representatives – which allows for parties to claim that their candidates did best.
The BJP has managed only eight of a possible 40 seats in Ayodhya, the temple town where Yogi lavishes much attention and which saw a “bhoomi poojan” in August, 2020 for the Ram Mandir presided over by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Akhilesh Yadav’s Samajwadi Party (SP) managed 24 seats, Mayawati’s Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) landed four, and independents six.
In Mathura, which the Sangh has decided will be the new nerve centre of Hindutva with a high-decibel campaign planned to reclaim “Krishna Janmabhoomi”, the BJP won only eight of the 33 zila panchayat seats, while the BSP emerged as the biggest gainer with 13 seats.
In Varanasi, which has twice elected PM Modi to the Lok Sabha, the Samajwadi Party has won 15 seats, the BSP plus independents 17 and the BJP just 8. There are reports that the announcement of the Varanasi result was delayed to help the BJP figure out its PR strategy on this performance.
In what has come as a short in the arm for the beleaguered Akhilesh Yadav and his party, the candidates they supported are front-runners in 747 zila panchayat wards. The BSP and Congress were leading in 322 and 77 wards respectively.
The Times of India has today reported that the BJP has launched a desperate outreach to the so-called 1,238 independents to wrest maximum posts of zila panchayat chairpersons, which will be held through an indirect election.
So how does one parse this bellwether result for India’s most significant political state, Uttar Pradesh, which has been the key for the BJP’s all-encompassing political capital and winning two general election?
First – and don’t let anyone mislead you – the abysmal handling of the vicious second wave of Covid-19 has impacted these elections which were held last month. UP has a primitive medical infrastructure which has all but been swept away as Covid rages unchecked through the massive state. The virus has now reached remote villages which are struggling with a gruesome death toll. This is in part the result of those retuning from the Kumbh Mela, where lakhs bathed together with no Covid safeguards. The shortage of oxygen, which is now endemic across India, is particularly bad in eastern UP, the citadel of Yogi.
Secondly, the catastrophic handling of Covid has the potential to derail Project Yogi which has seen him emerge as the future successor to Modi.
Thirdly, the results seem to have bought back to life the two comatose regional parties which were both reeling from serial failure in a spate of recent elections. Yadav said the results in SP’s favour were despite the BJP deploying all its machinery with ministers and central leaders campaigning for these elections. The SP, which has barely been seen on the ground after Covid-19 broke nearly nine months ago, is seeing the results as a message to get back in to the battle with the BJP.
Mayawati, the other regional heavyweight in UP, has in recent months tacitly or overtly supported the BJP on some key issues and barely stirred out of a self-imposed torpor which led Priyanka Gandhi to professs Mayawati is “the B-team of the BJP”. I asked several SP leaders to comment on the results. They were chary, saying any reaction could come only after “Behenji” issued her response. This suggests Akhilesh Yadav is wisely mindful of the importance of a good equation between Mayawati and him to take on the BJP.
Four: Priyanka Gandhi had flattered to deceive. She continues to be a helicopter leader in UP and the BJP does not take her seriously.
The BJP was counting on a Yogi sweep in UP. The mandir had been delivered in Ayodhya and the regional parties were quiescent reeling from bad alliance choices and the deployment of the central investigative agencies against them to keep them in check.
The Modi-and-Shah BJP takes every election seriously and these results are a code red for them expect an upping of Covid relief and an all-hands-on-deck approach.
(Swati Chaturvedi is an author and a journalist who has worked with The Indian Express, The Statesman and The Hindustan Times.)
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