The Samajwadi Party is emerging as the frontrunner in the Uttar Pradesh rural polls with counting trends indicating on Wednesday that at least 742 candidates for zilla panchayat membership backed by the opposition party are either leading or have won the bellwether elections, compared to around 679 for the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party. Analysts see the polls, held amid a Covid-19 surge in the state, as a key test of the Yogi Adityanath-led BJP government’s popularity and an opportunity for opposition parties to gauge the public mood, particularly as the exercise comes against the backdrop of persisting farmers’ protests in the country that have also gripped parts of UP.
Around 320 candidates backed by the Bahujan Samaj Party have reportedly won zilla panchayat seats. The Congress, which has been striving to regain ground in the state, maintained 270 contestants supported by it have emerged victorious. And Dalit leader Chandrashekhar Azad’s newly formed party has put up a creditable performance that has surprised many. Observers say 1,309 independent candidates hold the key to the posts of chairpersons of the district panchayats and the BJP and others are scrambling to woo them. The polls are not contested on party symbols but candidates effectively represent one political party or another.
The counting process kicked off on May 2, a day after the Supreme Court refused to put it on hold and the state election commission (SEC) said the candidates and their agents will be allowed to enter the counting centres only if they have tested negative for Covid-19 in the preceding 48 hours or have taken two vaccine doses. The election exercise triggered a controversy as it was carried out despite a huge spike in coronavirus cases that have overwhelmed hospitals and crematoriums in the state while around 700 teachers who were on poll duty have allegedly died because of the pandemic. According to Uttar Pradesh government data on Tuesday, a total of 25,858 fresh cases were reported along with 352 fatalities in a 24-hour period.
Chief minister Yogi Adityanath tweeted out congratulations to the winners and urged them to work for the welfare of the people and also adhere to Covid protocols.
जनता जनार्दन का आशीर्वाद प्राप्त कर उत्तर प्रदेश के पंचायत चुनाव-2021में विजयी हुए सभी प्रत्याशियों को हार्दिक बधाई।इस चुनौतीपूर्ण कालखण्ड में आप सभी स्थानीय प्रशासन के साथ मिलकर सहयोग करें तथा मानवता की सेवा में सहभागी बनें।
— Yogi Adityanath (@myogiadityanath) May 5, 2021
चुनाव परिणामों के उपरांत प्रशासन की गाइडलाइन्स तथा ‘कोरोना कर्फ्यू’ के प्रोटोकॉल का पालन अवश्य करें।आप सभी के उज्ज्वल कार्यकाल के लिए मेरी मंगलकामनाएं।
— Yogi Adityanath (@myogiadityanath) May 5, 2021
Over 8.69 lakh posts are up for grabs in the rural polls. Of these, more than 7.32 lakh seats are in the gram panchayat wards, 58,176 in the gram panchayats, 75,852 in the kshetra (block) panchayats and 3,050 in the zilla panchayats. The state election commission said this week that over 3.19 lakh candidates were elected unopposed, votes were being counted to declare results for over 3.27 lakh panchayat posts, while the rest of the posts remained uncontested. The panchayat polls were held in four phases from April 15 to 29. The election was held at four levels of panchayat bodies — gram panchayat, gram pradhan, block panchayat and zilla panchayat.
Speaking on the performance of the Samajwadi Party, its spokesperson Dr Anurag Bhadoria said, “In the panchayat elections, the Samajwadi Party has dented the BJP in districts like Varanasi, Prayagraj and Ayodhya. Not only this, chief minister Yogi Adityanath’s hometown seat of Gorakhpur has also been dented by the Samajwadi Party.”
In the district panchayat elections, there was a tough contest between the BJP and the SP. But trends suggest the biggest battle will be for the posts of zilla panchayat chairpersons.
Uttar Pradesh minister Sidharth Nath Singh, however, said that the BJP has won more than 900 seats in the panchayat elections and is in touch with 400 independent candidates.
UP Congress President Ajay Kumar Lallu alleged that the BJP and SP were now falsely claiming independent candidates as their own. Almost all the results of the panchayat elections have been finalised and now an official announcement of the Election Commission is awaited, sources say.
The debutant Azad Samaj Party has made inroads in Western UP, signalling a change in political equations of the state. The party founded by Bhim Army chief Chandrashekhar Azad has won seats in Muzaffarnagar and Bijnor, considered traditional bastions of Dalit leader Mayawati’s BSP. Western UP has had a key role in the assembly elections, analysts say, and it is believed that whenever the region has supported her, Mayawati has risen to power. Now, however, her party seems to be on the wane and Azad is looking to fill the void.
Speaking to the media, the state president of Azad Samaj Party, Sunil Chittoor, once considered a close aide of Mayawati, said, “Azad Samaj Party has given an outstanding performance in the UP panchayat polls and we have won eight posts of zilla panchayat members in Bijnor, seven in Muzaffarnagar and three in Saharanpur. Apart from these districts, the Azad Samaj Party has fared well in other districts as well. The party now looks forward to contesting the state assembly elections. At the moment we are working towards strengthening our organisation. Along with the youth, people from every field and every category are being given place in the organisation. The expansion of our organisation will be completed soon so that we can firmly focus on the upcoming assembly elections.”
In the previous edition of the polls in 2015, the SP emerged victorious, the BSP grabbed second place while the BJP came third and the Congress fourth.