By Arun Srivastava
Has it been some other time, the elections to the civic bodies in Uttar Pradesh might not have aroused so much of interest in the outcome of the electoral battle. But the two phase election being held on May 4 and 11 this time has virtually acquired the dynamics of referendum on the governance of Yogi Adityanath and also the precursor for the 2024 Lok Sabha election.
Usually the municipal issues and agendas dictate the dimension of the civic elections, but it is the use of bull dozers to demolish the dissent and eliminating and suppressing the voices of minorities that will cajole the voters to choose their favourites.
Nevertheless the opposition leaders are sceptical of use of muscle power by Yogi as had happened in earlier election. Incidentally this time the opposition utterly lacks the human resources to counter the onslaught of Yogi. The recent killings of some of the gangsters close to SP, BSP has unnerved the elements opposed to Yogi.
Having a deft control on the municipalities or the “chhoti sarkars” or mini governments is of immense importance for any political party in the state. Obviously Yogi would not like to lose these bodies. The control over the chhoti sarkars is the password for winning the 2024 Lok Sabha elections. Yogi is already on the record having said “We enter every election like it is an examination. The Opposition is already running away from the field.” His reference is to the BJP’s strategy of fighting every election tooth-and-nail.
Presence of national BJP leaders and union ministers in the state to monitor the elections underlines the importance it acquires for the BJP. These elections are a rehearsal for 2024 and also a chance for Yogi to prove that all the decisions he took or the manner in which he ran the government were right and successful.
In the last civic elections, neither Akhilesh Yadav nor Mayawati had taken to in depth campaigning but this time they have been alert and visited some areas. However BSP and SP have decided to count on local leaders, karyakartas (party workers) and sangathan (organisation).
In UP, BJP gained nearly two percentage points, from 39.7% in 2017 assembly polls to 41.6% in 2022, polls which meant that even the jump from 21.8% to 32% in SP’s vote share was not enough to bridge the huge gap. BSP fell from 22.2% to 12.7% and Congress from 6.3% to a mere 2.4%, below even RLD’s 3% share. In fact, out of 24 Jat-dominated districts in the phase, BJP won 18, just one less than 2017. RLD, the party of Jats, could win just four and SP two. These figures point to the fact that BJP has succeeded in making a serious dent in the SP and BSP vote bank and it would benefit from this in the ensuing election. SP won 40.8% vote share against BJP’s 40.3%. SP gained 14.3% vote share as compared to 2017 and BJP 1.3%, but BJP won 32 seats and SP 23. Seat-wise, this was SP’s second-best performance after seventh phase.
The OBC and EBC voters who were divided in the 2022 assembly elections are expected to close their ranks this time. They are quite cut up with the BJP for its thrust on the ‘Anti-OBC’ issue. OBC have been playing a decisive role in the successive victories of the BJP in the state. The Allahabad High Court ruling that the quota cannot be extended to OBCs as the UP government did not complete the necessary formalities has hurt this section severely.
In the wake of the court verdict the social justice politics is back in discussion in Uttar Pradesh. The OBC leaders looked at this move of the Yogi government to deny them the benefits of the reservation in the elections.
There are 762 urban local bodies, including 17 municipal corporations, 200 Nagar Palika Parishads, and 545 Nagar Panchayats, in Uttar Pradesh. The total population of these 762 urban local bodies is 4.85 crore. On December 5, the Uttar Pradesh government issued a draft order reserving 27% of seats in 762 urban local bodies for the OBCs.
It is worth recalling that in 2010, a constitution bench laid down the triple test formula, which involves forming a dedicated commission to collect data after conducting a “rigorous empirical inquiry” into the nature and implications of the backwardness with respect to local bodies, specifying the proportion of reservation, and not exceeding the 50% quota cap. The Lucknow bench of the Allahabad high court said that local body elections in Uttar Pradesh should be held at the earliest, but there should be no reservation for OBCs.
The OBC leaders view this as a shrewd move of Yogi to promote the interest of the upper castes. Already Yogi is accused of protecting and promoting the interest of the Rajputs, the caste to which he belongs. It is alleged that while Yogi has been ruthless towards the Muslim and Brahmin gangsters, he has not touched any of the 32 famous Rajput dons who have not less than 100 case each against them. OBCs have a sizeable population in the politically significant state of Uttar Pradesh. They comprise nearly 50% of the state population and play a decisive role in every election, from local bodies to the Lok Sabha.
These communities have played vital role in the victories of the BJP since Narendra Modi’s foray into national politics in 2014. But in proportion to their services to the BJP and its leaders they have not their share in the power. It is said that a large number of non-Yadav OBCs who had shifted their loyalties to the BJP in 2014 have now been contemplating to shift their loyalty to the SP. But it is not sure that whether this shift will witness a transfer of their vote to the SP candidates in the 2023 civic polls.
It was on March 23, this year the Supreme Court paved the way for holding urban local body polls in Uttar Pradesh with reservation for the other backward classes (OBCs). A three-judge bench headed by Chief Justice of India (CJI) D Y Chandrachud went through a report of the UP State Local Bodies Dedicated Backward Classes Commission, set aside the Allahabad high court’s decision of December 27 that stayed the state’s decision to issue a notification for the civic polls with OBC quotas.
Nevertheless the Muslim voting pattern is of key interest in the two-phase urban local bodies’ elections that begun in the state today. With Muslims nursing a hurt sentiment at the silence of the opposition parties at the behaviour and treatment meted out to them by Yogi during his rule, the opposition leaders are finding it tough to reach out to the Muslims. However a common perception is moving around the political circle that they this time may switch over to BSP of Mayawati. The treatment meted out to SP veteran Azam Khan a close friend of Mulayam Singh by SP chief Akhilesh has further antagonised the Muslims.
It is interesting to watch that BJP which is known as anti-Muslim, has fielded the biggest batch of Muslims in these elections. BJP has for the first time fielded 367 Muslim candidates, including councillors in municipal corporations and candidates for the post of chairperson in nagar panchayats. The party has given tickets to Muslims for the post of councillor in four wards of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s parliamentary constituency, Varanasi, and even in Yogi Adityanath’s constituency Gorakhpur. Even Bahujan Samaj Party leader Mayawati has fielded 11 Muslims for 17 mayoral seats. The Samajwadi Party has not fielded a single Yadav in the mayoral polls, which is another interesting political experiment to watch out for.
In the civic elections surprisingly upper caste voters are set to dominate as they make up more than 50 per cent of the electorate in all 17 municipal corporations while Muslims voters are expected to be game changer.
This election is important for both Yogi and Akhilesh. Their stature in the national politics will be determined by the outcome of the electoral results. A poor performance by Akhilesh would eclipse his stature in the opposition camp and lose his sting.
The number of urban bodies has also increased from 653 to 760 this time, according to the SEC. The new urban bodies consist of one municipal corporation, one municipal council and 105 nagar panchayats. There are also 96.33 lakh more voters this time around as compared to 2017, with more than 4.32 crore people expected to exercise their voting rights in the civic polls.
As usual the Samajwadi Party has been the target of Mayawati more than BJP. At a meeting if her senior leaders on April 2 she asked her party workers to remain cautious about the propaganda that its support among Dalits was weakening. She however expressed confidence that not the SP instead it is BSP which can defeat the BJP. She alleged “Most of the cities are devoid of any facilities. But are being identified as smart cities. Owing to price rise, poverty and unemployment, the condition of villages is very bad”. (IPA Service)