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Mainstream, VOL LIII No 47 New Delhi, November 14, 2015

Panchayat Elections in UP Suggest New Trends

Monday 16 November 2015

by Vivek Kumar Srivastava

The results of the panchayat elections in UP are indicative of the direction towards which the political power is shifting. Although these elections are not contested on party lines and are apolitical by nature, parties do support the candidates. The SP, the ruling party, emerged as the largest party. The BJP had entered the fray with the objective to rehearse the ensuing Assembly elections after two years. The Congress and BSP had also attempted to recapture their lost ground in the State.

The SP knew that the winds were not much in favour, hence it asked its local leaders to restart nurturing the base at the local level for the Assembly elections; allowed its leaders, Ministers to test their strength in their areas of influence, but found itself in a shaky state. Its show was not much impactful and top leaders failed to finish the task assigned. The major victories of the SP are in the areas where the caste card or personal influences prove successful.

The vital factors responsible for its average performance lie in the loss of its good image of 2012 when it had won the Assembly elections, the infighting within the party on the question of Amar Singh’s entry into the party, the role of Azam Khan—a weak point for the party among the Hindu voters, accusations on the government with respect to irregularities in several recruitment commissions, including the Higher Education Commission, State Public Service Commission, and the High Court decisions for the removal of their heads or members have made things bad for the SP leading to a definite loss of its image.

Mulayam Singh Yadav has a better perception of the political realities prevailing in the State, and has castigated the State Government directly and indirectly for its performance. His fears and analysis have come true in these elections. The recent reshuffle in the State Ministry is aimed to bring those leaders into prominence who are capable enough to help the candidates win in the coming Assembly elections. This is also aimed towards image-dressing where the SP is losing continuously among the urban and rural-urban voters, where the educated class, particularly the young ones, have developed a negative attitude towards the party, albeit CM Akhilesh Yadav, himself a young leader, has focused on develop-ment programmes as Metro projects are taking full shape in several districts. The positive sign for the SP is that Akhilesh’s image is still quite attractive among the people. He should come forward in a more impressive manner with full command. He still holds the potential to navigate the party to a win in the State elections.

The BJP has not put up a satisfactory show. It was expected that it would repeat its 2014 parlia-mentary election performance but it failed to do so. The root cause is the gradual downfall of the BJP among the people since the last parliamentary elections. Even last year’s by-elections had signalled that it had started to lose its shine, now its next phase has arrived with more adverse indications, and it needs to regroup its lost elements of faith among the common people.

It has banked upon the Hindutva card as its leaders at the State and Central level have often emphasised the religious identity as the true identity of its followers but this approach has not brought positive results. The loss in the elections is also due to the declining influence of PM Modi’s image whose magic at the grassroot level has been contested by the youth and older generation who now ask difficult questions about his functioning; in which his foreign travels have not been positively taken by them.

The emergence of communalism in the country has also percolated to the local level where it has penetrated into the discourse zone of the people inside the houses and at public meeting places. This trend at the local level has proved negative to the BJP because still the people wish to live in peace and harmony knowing well that they have several common interests of survival. This reasoning helps them to live without any disturbance, but this peace is disturbed when their thought-process is vitiated by certain elements. They lose the shared ground of survival and move to their cocooned shell and start exhibiting a particular religious philosophy.

This mental processing did not take place in this election and the polarisation being sought to be created at the top level was rejected at the grassroots. The BJP needs to learn from this and refashion its political working in a different way as the Assembly and local elections have their own features, which often differ from the national elections.

The major gainer this time was the BSP. The election exhibited that the voters whome it lost earlier were returning to it. This development is the result of two major factors; primarily the consolidation of the work undertaken by the BSP in the State and the fading effect of PM Modi which had penetrated the BSP constituency during the last parliamentary election. The BSP is not vocal at present in the affairs of the State and is allowing the SP to decline by committing mistakes. It does not highlight the failures of the State administration in a very sharp manner. This is a well-thought strategy as it will attack the government in the coming Assembly elections in a collective and severe manner.

This strategy has been experimented in the panchayat elections where it has worked seriously throughout the State, among different strata and in different ways but silently. Mayawati has exhibited sagacity which has brought rich dividends to the BSP. Her statement that she will not construct museums and memorials but will pay attention to law and order in the State, if elected, is a new call to attract the urban middle class. She has started her campaigning in an effective manner.

The Congress is almost a lost horse in UP politics. Its organisational structure is almost shattered. The State leadership is unrecognised at the level of the electorate. There are no active programmes by the State leadership to awaken or attract the people. Though some leaders at the city and rural levels have initiated some programmes at their personal level as Indira Gandhi’s death anniversary was organised or the Indira-Nehru remembrance month was launched. But these are not well organised and are contributed mainly by the local leaders. It needs to reorganise its organisational infrastructure in a more effective manner and a dynamic leader with full commitment like Mayawati and Mulayam Singh should be roped into the State’s politics with the focus on the Assembly elections.

The rise of Owaisi’s MIM in the State, loss of influence in Rae Barely, Amethi by the Congress and in Varanasi by the BJP are a cause of worry for the concerned parties and their towering leaders. The MIM’s emergence may redefine the politics of the SP and Congress. The BJP may feel happy with its emergence as it may help it to polarise the voters in the Assembly elections.

The panchayat elections in UP indicate that new political configurations are emerging in the State. These are also at present learning lessons for all political parties. The BSP has gained and the SP, BJP and Congress need to appreciate the new trends. They need to plan out their strategies with good politics close to the Assembly elections.

Dr Srivastava is the Vice-Chairman, CSSP, Kanpur.