Understanding BJP’s recent victory in UP Block panchayat elections

UP CM Yogi Adityanath and BJP state chief Swatantra Dev Singh celebrates party's victory in UP Block panchayat polls. | Photo: PTI

The Hindu-Nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) swept the July 3 district panchayat elections in Uttar Pradesh. While the party believes the victory has put them on a strong foot for the upcoming Assembly Elections in Uttar Pradesh scheduled early next year, the Opposition and others believe otherwise. 

Aas Mohammad Kaif | TwoCircles.net

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UTTAR PRADESH – The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is riding high after securing a massive victory in Uttar Pradesh District Panchayat elections. The Hindu Nationalist party, which has been in power in the Centre since 2014, won 67 out of 75 districts of Uttar Pradesh. 

Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath is elated with the victory. The significance of the victory can be interpreted by the fact that Prime Minister Narendra Modi himself congratulated CM Yogi Adityanath. What makes this victory unique is the recent dissatisfaction amongst the public over the gross mishandling of the Covid-19 second wave as well as reports of infighting in the BJP. Also, the BJP win is shocking as the party faced a crushing defeat in the Zilla panchayat members election and it is these members who elect the Zilla Panchayat President. This development comes after the Samajwadi Party managed to win 812 members in the district panchayat but consequently converted into just 5 Zilla Panchayat Presidents. On the other hand, BJP with 603 members converted into an overwhelming 67 Zilla Panchayat Presidents. 17 of those 67 Zilla Panchayat Presidents were elected unopposed where either the opposition couldn’t file their nomination or had their nominations rejected.

BJP couldn’t break Baghpat
Baghpat in Western Uttar Pradesh gave the strongest statement during the elections. After the unilateral victory of the BJP in the elections, the biggest alarm bell for it was Baghpat. Despite allegations of misuse of government machinery, the BJP could not break the opposition in Baghpat. Under the leadership of Jayant Chaudhary of Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD), the opposition countered every move made by the ruling party here. Controversially, the opposition’s fake candidate reached to withdraw his nomination and on the election day, thousands of RLD supporters took to the streets to try and prevent, counter and demolish any act by the ruling dispensation. The entire state missed such readiness and commitment despite the possession of an overwhelming majority.

The Zilla Panchayat elections have often been termed as a display of money and muscle power, where the opposition now alleges that there has been a gross misuse of the government machinery at their disposal. 

A long two-month gap between the election of the members and the election of the president enabled the BJP to use their resources towards an unlikely result. This time period witnessed opposition members being tempted to vote for the ruling dispensation when the time came and for those who did not give in to the temptation, cases were registered indiscriminately. The government machinery was hence crucial in allowing the BJP to retain a majority power share. In Western Uttar Pradesh alone, 13 out of the 14 President seats were won by the BJP surprisingly since in none of the districts the BJP crossed the majority member mark.

In Bijnor, BJP’s Sakendra Pratap Singh got 30 votes and defeated the opposition candidate by 5 votes, whereas the BJP had only 8 Zilla panchayat members, a huge deficit from the majority mark. In districts such as Muzaffarnagar, Shamli, Rampur, Amroha and the Meerut too the opposition was defeated despite a majority. In Saharanpur, disappointingly, the opposition with 35 members could not even file nomination for the President’s post. 

Baghpat was an exception amidst this government machinery crisis, although there were allegations of all kinds of conspiracies against the ruling party. Eventually, RLD’s candidate Mamta Kishore defeated Babli Devi of BJP by 5 votes. Mamta Kishore received the support of 12 members while BJP’s Babli Devi received 7 votes. The BJP tried to create a ploy too but failed due to a united opposition. 

Former minister and RLD leader Kuldeep Ujjwal said that the conspiracy was so heightened that during the election, a woman reached the nomination office to collect her application and named herself Mamta Kishore. Interestingly, the administration accepted it without investigation even though the real RLD candidate Mamta Kishore was in Rajasthan. The real Mamta Kishore eventually denied this through video conferencing and RLD President Jayant Chaudhary announced he will reach Baghpat immediately on this matter. Seeing the matter deteriorating, the administration could not muster the courage to proceed. However, cases were eventually filed on many Zilla Panchayat members and investigations were started against some, but the opposition in Baghpat stood their ground and persisted.

Kuldeep Ujjwal opened up on his strategy in Baghpat and explained that he believes RLD emerged victorious in Baghpat because of their unique ability to fight against injustice. 

“The people from BJP planned to intimidate the elected members and we demonstrated our extraordinary ability not to be afraid and standing our ground. Our team of RLD decided that whenever a member is harassed, we will stand by him and we did so too,” he told TwoCircles.net. 

The Baghpat administration filed a case against Mehboob Alvi, a Zilla Panchayat member and also harassed his children. Consequently, hundreds of RLD workers sat in protest in support of them. 

“Similarly, in the case of another member Subhash Gurjar, an investigation was set up on his school. In addition to being threatened, neither he was afraid nor did we let him be afraid,” Ujjwal said.  

Ujjwal said that the RLD cadre had decided that they would stand together in the face of it. “500 workers were alerted at all times, wherever they received information about something wrong happening, they reached immediately,” he said. 

Kuldeep Ujjwal said that the administration went as far as reaching a member Fakhruddin with a JCB machine, and stood in front of the machine. “On election day 25,000 people were on the streets. How can you break the trust of the people who voted? Sensing the mood of the people, the ruling party surrendered. Our strategy was of unity and it was successful,” he said. 

The strategic intelligence and strict demeanour displayed by the opposition in Baghpat wasn’t witnessed elsewhere in the state. The ruling party managed to elect their Zilla Panchayat President in districts like Ghazipur with just 2 elected members. The Samajwadi Party with a majority of 812 members won the President’s post in Etah, Etawah, Azamgarh, Sant Kabir Nagar and Ballia. In many districts across the state, the Samajwadi Party workers were disgruntled at the chain of events and attempted to protest only to be thrashed by the local administration.

However, there is a long ongoing trivia attached with the Zila Panchayat Elections in Uttar Pradesh. Every party which wins the majority Zilla Panchayat Presidents loses the incoming Assembly election. In 2010 the BSP had 51 Zilla Panchayat Presidents, and consequently, they won just 80 Assembly seats. In 2015, the Samajwadi Party had won 63 president posts resulting in just 47 assembly seats in the 2017 election. It will be interesting to see if fate plays a similar role for the BJP with 67 Zilla Panchayat Presidents. 

Samajwadi Party chief and former UP Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav said that the BJP has managed to win many Zilla Panchayat President seats but the public will disallow them from enjoying a similar majority in the Assembly elections.

Pawan Pandey from Ayodhya, a former minister in the Samajwadi Party government, told TwoCircles.net that he never witnessed such severe misappropriation of government resources towards the political goals of the ruling party. “The administration has been openly biased and engaged in ensuring a win for the candidates of the ruling party. The members were intimidated, the leaders were tempted and false cases were brought against those who did not heed in. This is not a victory but power taken by force. In 2022, the people will evict them,” he said.