Votes and hopes

Print edition : December 01, 2006

Mulayam Singh Yadav, Chief Minister and Samajwadi Party president. -

The civic polls in Uttar Pradesh offer every political group something to celebrate, except the Bahujan Samaj Party.

ON November 8, the people of Lucknow, the capital of Uttar Pradesh, witnessed a bizarre political spectacle: during the course of the day several mainstream parties claimed victory in the State municipal elections by highlighting selective segments of the results as they were announced. Leaders of the ruling Samajwadi Party (S.P.), the Opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Congress called one media conference after another and each averred that it had scored "great success" in the civic polls. The day's proceedings touched a new high in political ludicrousness when Swami Prasad Maurya, leader of the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), addressed the media and announced that his party was the real victor though it had not contested the elections.

Obviously, it was the mixed nature of the results that led to this. Elections were held to the three-tier panchayati raj institutions, which consisted of 12 Nagar Nigams (municipal corporations), 191 Nagar Parishads (town municipalities) and 414 Nagar Panchayats (rural municipalities). The BJP swept the Nagar Nigams, winning eight Mayor posts, while the Congress won three and the S.P. one. Of the 191 Nagar Parishad positions, the S.P. won 81, the BJP 37, the Congress 10, the Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD) three, and independents 60. The S.P. leadership claimed that 26 of the 60 independents had won with their party's support. Of the 414 Nagar Panchayats, the S.P. took 185, the BJP 48, the Congress 16, the RLD six, and independents 122, of which the S.P. claimed to have supported 37 (the results for many seats are yet to come).

As is evident, there was something in the results for everybody. So, when BJP leader Kesari Nath Tripathi and Congress leader Pramod Tiwari referred to the polls, their focus was entirely on the Nagar Nigams. Tripathi asserted that the Nagar Nigam results showed that the BJP was "the only party which would and could take on the S.P." According to Tiwari, the Nagar Nigam polls illustrated that the Congress could not be written off in the State. He said that the results made it clear that people, especially the minority Muslim community, looked to the Congress to provide an alternative to the Mulayam Singh Yadav-led S.P. government. BSP leader Maurya contended that since his party did not formally contest the polls, party supporters had entered the fray as independents, hence the presence of a significant number of independent victors. According to Maurya, 85 per cent of Independents were supported by the BSP.

Mayawati, Bahujan Samaj Party president, with party general secretary M.C. Mishra.-SUBIR ROY

The S.P. leadership, naturally, focussed on the Nagar Panchayat and Nagar Parishad results. They maintained that the results pointed to the party's growing influence in urban and semi-urban areas. Party leader Shivpal Yadav maintained that even in the Nagar Nigams the performance of the S.P. was not bad. He pointed out that in the 2001 Mayor elections the S.P. had taken only one seat and the party had retained that position. It came second in six Nagar Nigams in the current elections. The BJP won six Mayor positions in 2001 and increased its tally by two this time. The Congress had two Mayor positions in 2001 and added one more this time. Clearly, the results do not signify a quantitative leap for the two national parties.

However, a closer analysis of the results reveals some interesting qualitative socio-political trends. And these characteristics, in many ways, indicate a gradation of the gains and losses made by the various mainstream parties of the State. The most striking feature is the huge shift of the mass base of the BSP, the Dalit dominated party that did not formally contest the polls, to other parties, in particular the BJP and the Congress. This shift happened in almost all Nagar Nigams, and was most conspicuous in the corporations of Meerut, Gorakhpur and Lucknow. In Meerut the candidate for whom BSP leaders campaigned could only muster 17,000 votes while the BJP emerged from nowhere to take the seat by a margin of over one lakh.

According to a Meerut-based BSP leader, what Meerut saw was a massive shift of almost the entire Dalit base of the party in the corporation. The leader pointed out that the core Dalit constituency of the BSP seemed to have used the civic polls to "teach a lesson" to party chief Mayawati for taking them for granted and going overboard with manoeuvres to attract and promote sections like Brahmins and Muslims. Mayawati's own reactions after the polls point to an admission of error in the party's strategy.

KESARI NATH TRIPATHI, State BJP president.-SUBIR ROY

The former Chief Minister seemed flustered in her post-poll interactions with the media. First, Mayawati advanced the argument that she had instructed her cadre to transfer votes to the BJP and the Congress in order to defeat the S.P. Later, she said that a section of Dalits, unhappy with Muslim fundamentalism, voted for the BJP. In the course of these arguments she used derogatory Hindi slang to describe the trader (Vaishya) community in a bid to win back her core Dalit constituency. Her statements, however, have evoked strong reactions from both the Muslim and Vaishya communities and generated a new controversy. Mayawati was forced to retract these statements, but the resentment has persisted in both communities.

Sections of the BSP leadership are of the view that Mayawati tied herself in knots throughout the election process. She decided not to contest the polls because she believed that the fight for civic body seats would lead to intra-party bickering, which in turn would hamper the preparations for the 2007 Assembly polls. But as things stand now, her decision seems to have had the result she sought to avoid, and is hampering Assembly poll preparations.

Broadly, the shift of BSP votes in the Nagar Nigams followed a geographical pattern. In most of western Uttar Pradesh the shift was to the BJP, and in most of eastern Uttar Pradesh it was to the Congress. According to political analyst Hariraj Singh Tyagi, the shift to the BJP was by and large a reflection of the animosity of BSP cadre to certain individuals promoted by Mayawati in different areas. However, Tyagi added, the shift to the Congress was more ideology-oriented and hence has the potential to become substantive.

The Congress tally - winning three mayoral positions and coming second in four - was the result of a significant shift of the Muslim vote in urban areas in favour of the party. The loser in this process was the S.P. The S.P.'s aggressive pro-Islamic, anti-United States positions did not help it in urban Uttar Pradesh, though the party's campaign was well-received in rural areas. The Nagar Nigam results also show that the S.P.'s efforts to wean away the Vaishya community from the BJP by offering various governmental benefits also did not work.

Significantly, neither the BJP nor the Congress, despite winning the mayoral elections in eight and three corporations respectively, has a majority of Council seats in any of them. In fact, no single party has a majority in any of the corporations; the S.P. is the number one party in as many as eight Nagar Nigams.

PRAMOD TEWARI, CONGRESS Legislature Party leader.-SUBIR ROY

In many places, the Mayors may find their hands bound by Opposition Councillors. Allahabad, where the mayoral election was won by the Congress, is a case in point. Here, the Congress has only nine Councillors in a House of 80 whereas the S.P. and the BJP have 26 and 19 respectively. In Lucknow, where the Congress also won the mayoral seat, the BJP is the single largest group with 42 seats in the 110-member Council. The S.P. has 31 seats and the Congress 23 seats. Independents were elected in 14 wards.

Almost all parties suffered a loss of seats in their traditional strongholds. The reverses suffered by the S.P. in Kannauj (where the Lok Sabha seat is held by Akhilesh Yadav) and Barabanki (the constituency of former Union Minister Beni Prasad Verma) and by the Congress in the four Nagar Panchayats in Amethi (represented in the Lok Sabha by Rahul Gandhi) are cases in point. According to many observers, a kind of localised anti-incumbency sentiment has caused these reverses.

On the whole, the results have stirred up the political situation in the run-up to the Assembly polls. The shift of BSP votes to the Congress and the BJP, which helped these parties make gains, may be temporary but it would certainly invigorate the rank and file of the two national parties and pull them out of the organisational morass they have been in for long. For the BSP, the results have necessitated a major course correction and a streamlining of its strategies. The S.P. may also have to evolve new strategies to attract new communities to its fold and retain its support among minority Muslims.

The post-poll scene has been marked by aggressive campaigning against the S.P. government by non-S.P. parties. The BSP, the BJP, the Congress and the recently formed, Vishwanath Pratap Singh-led Jan Morcha have all launched separate agitations charging that government machinery was used to instigate violence and rig the polls. The S.P. has countered the argument by questioning how the Congress and the BJP could win so many seats if that were the case.

Governor T.V. Rajeshwar also contributed his mite to this controversy by sending two letters to President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam suggesting that State-sponsored violence had hampered the polling process. This was followed up by statements from Congress leaders, including Union Minister of State for Home Affairs Prakash Jaiswal, which claimed that the Centre was considering a proposal to dismiss the Mulayam Singh Yadav government. It remains to be seen whether the threat shall be fulfilled, but there is little doubt that such a move would arouse volatile public reactions in the run-up to the Assembly polls.

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