The BJP’s defeat in the Uttar Pradesh Cantonment Board elections, coming close on the heels of bypoll losses, has dented the party’s hope of a good show in the 2017 assembly polls.
The weaker sections, lured by Narendra Modi’s chai-wala campaign in the general election, are gradually moving away from the BJP that is still seen as an upper caste party. Its support base in urban areas has also eroded.
“Usually economically and socially lower classes live in the board area. The BJP’s defeat validates the belief that weaker sections were getting disillusioned,” said former Congress president Rita Bahuguna Joshi, adding the Congress supported candidates in the past but never hyped it.
Elections in cantonment boards, which have huge properties in the form of land and buildings, barely create a whimper as they are apolitical and localised with an electoral college of barely a few thousand. This was the first time a political party went the whole hog.
“This is more of a social job. Politicians have by and large kept away. But the BJP on a high entered the fray and tasted defeat,” said Pankaj Mahendru, who has been vice-chairman for three terms.
BJP leader Rajnath Singh downplayed the issue, saying it was wrong to say the party had tasted defeat as it had not officially fielded any candidate.
However, in Agra the BJP fought on the party’s symbol and manifesto but lost seven of the eight seats it contested.
The reverses were more alarming in Varanasi and Lucknow, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and home minister Rajnath Singh’s constituencies.
“Several BJP leaders, including the mayor, called on all 1,100 voters, mostly Muslims, Christians and other weaker sections. Yet they lost the election,” said Masuda Husain, who won from a Varanasi ward.