Months ahead of the high-stake Uttar Pradesh assembly elections, the BJP received a shot in the arm as its supported candidates won 66 out of 75 seats in the zila parishad chairman elections. As many as 21 of them had already won unopposed — including in Varanasi and Gorakhpur — at the time of nomination last week while the party-backed candidates emerged victorious on 45 out of 53 seats the polling for which was conducted on Saturday. A candidate backed by its ally Apna Dal won another seat, taking the NDA’s tally to 67.
Apna Dal (S) backed candidate Rita Patel, however, faced a defeat in Jaunpur where independent candidate Srikala Reddy, wife of where mafia-turned-politician Dhananjay Singh emerged as a winner. The Anupriya Patel-led party supported candidate Radhika Patel though won from Sonebhadra, defeating SP’s Jai Prakash Pandey alias Chokhur Pandey.
Immediately after the results were declared, Prime Minister Narendra Modi tweeted: “The win in Zila Panchayat chairman elections was people’s blessing for development, public service and rule of law. The credit goes to the policies of chief minister Yogi Adityanath and workers of the BJP. Congratulations to the Uttar Pradesh government and BJP organisation.”
Home Minister Amit Shah, Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath, Uttar Pradesh BJP in charge Radha Mohan Singh and state party chief Swatantra Dev Singh hailed the landslide victory of BJP-backed candidates. However, SP chief Akhilesh Yadav called it a ‘blatant misuse of power’ by the ruling party.
Samajwadi Party-backed candidates could win only five seats, including Etawah, which the Akhilesh Yadav-led party won unopposed after BJP did not field its candidate. The other seats SP-supported candidates won were Etah, Sant Kabir Nagar, Azamgarh and Ballia.
The party in power has a distinct advantage in the zila panchayat president polls and even those who win as Independents often side with the ruling dispensation for obvious reasons, a political analyst said. “But even then SP’s defeat in its strongholds like Mainpuri, Kannauj, Badaun, Firozabad and Farrukhabad is a big setback to the party which claims to be the biggest challenger to the BJP in the forthcoming assembly elections,” he adds.
The electoral battle in the rural local bodies largely remained a one-sided contest in favour of the BJP which not only received the support of independents but also of BSP- backed ward members after party chief Mayawati positioned herself squarely against her bête noire, SP, and announced of not contesting the zila parishad chairman elections. There were also reports of SP backed members cross-voting in favour of the BJP, notably in Ayodhya.
BJP’s win was especially significant in Ayodhya and Mathura — the epicentre of Hindutva politics — where the BJP had faced a formidable challenge from the opposition, mainly the SP, during zila parishad ward elections. On Saturday, however, BJP-backed candidates sailed through easily in both districts. In Ayodhya, BJP’s Roli Singh, considered close to local MP Lallu Singh, defeated SP backed Indu Sen Yadav, the daughter-in-law of SP strongman and former MP, late Mitra Sen Yadav.
Likewise, in Mathura, BJP-supported Kisan Singh defeated RLD’s Rajendra Singh Sikarwar. The Jayant Chaudhary-led political outfit, however, had its supported candidate, Mamta, winning from Baghpat, west Uttar Pradesh district from where it contested after striking an unannounced alliance with the SP.
A keen contest was seen in Unnao where BJP-backed candidate Shakun Singh — widow of slain SP MLC, Ajit Singh — defeated independent candidate Arun Singh, considered close to expelled BJP MLA Kuldeep Singh Senger, who is in jail on charges of raping a minor. The BJP had earlier backed Arun but retracted after the Unnao rape survivor wrote to Prime Minister Narendra Modi and chief minister Yogi Adityanth. In fact, the BJP had first announced to back Sangeeta, wife of Kuldeep Senger, for the zila parishad ward polls. The party, however, cancelled her candidature after a hue and cry.
The BJP-supported candidates won also in the INC pocket borough of Rae Bareli (Ranjana Chaudhary) and Amethi (Rajesh Agrahari). Rajesh happens to be a local businessman engaged in the manufacture of spices.
Reacting to poll results, chief minister Yogi said that the victory of BJP supported candidates was a reflection of public centric policies and measures taken by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. “It was also an indication of people’s confidence in ‘sushashan‘ of the ruling BJP. This would strengthen the Panchayati Raj system in the state,” Yogi said in a tweet. Uttar Pradesh BJP chief Swatantra Dev Singh said that it was because of the hard work of party workers and the popularity of Prime Minister Modi and chief minister Yogi which led to the victory of BJP backed candidates.
Though not contested on party symbols, the rural local bodies polls had turned into a contest of prestige after BJP formally announced its supported candidates, stoking a political frenzy in the opposition camp, mainly the SP. Experts said that BJP would further up its efforts in increasing its footprints in the rural precincts which would determine its electoral prospects in the 2022 assembly elections.