The BSP’s gamble of contesting the UP civic polls on party symbol for the first time in 22 years appears to have paid off with the party performing unexpectedly well in urban areas by winning two mayoral posts. Urban areas in UP are not the traditional stronghold of the Mayawati-led party. “The party is upbeat with the results that have come as a shot in the arm for cadres who have been struggling since the 2014 Lok Sabha and 2017 Assembly polls,” a senior party leader said.
“This was the logic behind the party deciding to go into the urban body elections on party symbol as the leadership felt that there is a need to work with renewed vigour and missionary zeal through a new strategy to deal with fresh challenges after electoral contests in which the party did not fare well,” he said. Though the BJP is a clear winner, bagging 14 of the 16 mayoral posts, the BSP registered twin success in Meerut and Aligarh, wresting both seats from the BJP.
Besides, the BSP candidates also performed well in Jhansi, Agra and Saharanpur losing the last seat by a margin of just 2,000 votes, he said. Both the Samajwadi Party and the Congress, however, failed to open their account in the elections for the mayoral posts.
Unlike the BJP, which had put in all its resources and leaders spearheaded by Chief Minister Yogi Adityanth, the BSP had reposed its faith on its state-level leaders, including state unit president Ram Achal Rajbhar, among others for campaigning. Behind the BJP’s massive win was the strong army of the saffron party and RSS cadres, over 300 UP MLAs and ministers working full time to reach out to voters.
Adityanath himself criss-crossed the state to campaign for civic elections, something unusual for a chief minister to do. Apparently, this was also the first time when the ruling party released a full-fledged manifesto for a local body election and the head of the government himself campaigned on a war footing for civic bodies which have traditionally remained the strong hunting ground for the BJP, he stressed.
The BSP, in contrast, made little noise with its national president not only staying away from campaigning, but also busy in other states. Despite not being a party in active campaign, she had been busy in formulating a strategy and overseeing the campaigning, he said.
Party insiders feel that what worked in favour of the party was the Dalit-Muslim combination. The party supremo will further consolidate it along with the backwards for the next electoral contest in 2019 for Lok Sabha, though the party is likely to keep its options of striking a respectful alliance open.
“These elections also prove that the BSP is still among the foremost choices of the electorate despite the propaganda of the saffron party projecting itself as the only party which could take the state and country ahead,” he said. After successive poll debacles, Mayawati had decided that though BSP’s base is not as strong in urban areas (as in rural areas), a decision has been taken in view of the growth in people’s support in urban areas as well. The BSP has not fought the urban body polls on party ticket since 1995.
This time, on demands from its leaders, a decision was taken to contest on party symbol. Apart from this, the ban on illegal slaughterhouses by the BJP government might have caused the saffron party’s defeat in Meerut and Aligarh mayoral elections.
The meat lobby, party insiders said, mobilised the Muslim community to vote en masse for BSP candidates to ensure BJP defeat. Despite BSP chief Mayawati not campaigning and not even casting her vote, Dalits in general and Jatavs in particular stood with the BSP and this made the choice easy for Muslims.
At the same time, this tactical move has become a worrying sign for the Samajwadi Party as the minority community has remained loyal to it for long but this time voted for the BSP in Meerut, Aligarh and Saharanpur where BSP candidate was the runner-up. Political observers said the meat trader lobby has a strong influence in Meerut.
A BJP insider said leaders like Yaqoub Qureshi, whose family is in slaughterhouse business, gets his support mainly from Muslims who are involved in the trade. Muslims have been crying foul since the Adityanath government banned illegal slaughterhouses with some even claiming to have lost their livelihood.
There are approximately 1.10 lakh members from the Qureshi and the Ansari communities in Meerut. In Sunita Verma they found a strong candidate as the BSP with Dalit support became an easy pick for the minority community.
Even in Aligarh, which has eight slaughterhouses, the community voted for BSP’s Mohd Furqan to defeat BJP’s Rajeev Agrawal. Qureshis and Ansaris, who are mostly in slaughterhouse trade, have a population of around 40,000 and in total, Aligarh has around 1.25 lakh Muslims. There were other reasons too in Aligarh.
Party insiders said giving ticket to Rajeev Agrawal forced Varshneys to switch loyalty since, traditionally and politically, both communities have been against each other. Varshneys have remained loyal to the BJP for years and even when former chief minister Kalyan Singh lost from Atrauli, Krishna Kumar Noman, a Varshney, won Aligarh because of them.
Party insiders said that losing Aligarh is a bigger shock and worrying sign for the BJP than losing Meerut. After a dismal performance in 2014 Lok Sabha elections and then in UP assembly elections, the Mayawati-led BSP sprung a surprise by winning two out of the 16 mayoral seats. BSP candidates Sunita Verma and Mohammad Furkan won from Meerut and Aligarh respectively.
In 2012 civic polls, the BSP did not contest on party symbol but it supported Abhilasha Nandi, who won the Allahabad seat. The BSP’s win in the two west UP districts was crucial as the two were earlier dominated by the BJP. Meerut is a stronghold of former BJP state president Laxmi Kant Bajpai.
The performance of the BSP in the civic polls is expected to boost the sagging morale of the party cadre, which was otherwise disenchanted by repeated electoral defeats in recent times. An analysis of the results shows Mayawati not only retained her core Dalit vote bank but also managed to get back those who had shifted their loyalties to the BJP during the Lok Sabha elections in 2014 and then again in UP assembly elections.