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BJP in damage control mode after Uttar Pradesh rural polls setback

Panchayat poll results have caused an alarm within the ruling BJP that the handling of the Covid-19 crisis could have an adverse impact on its prospects in the 2022 assembly polls in Uttar Pradesh
UPDATED ON MAY 06, 2021 10:43 AM IST
Exclusive
Polling officials at a polling booth on the eve of the fourth phase of panchayat elections, in Mathura, UP, late April. (File photo)

The setback it faced in its bastions of Ayodhya, Varanasi, Lucknow, and Gorakhpur in the panchayat polls has caused an alarm within the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) that the handling of the Covid-19 crisis could have an adverse impact on its prospects in the 2022 assembly polls in Uttar Pradesh.

People aware of the matter said BJP MPs and legislators have now been asked to hit the ground running and help set up oxygen plants, increase hospital beds and procure medicines before embarking on any “self-promotion” on social media.

India faces the worst surge of Covid-19 infections as the second wave of the pandemic has starved hospitals of life-saving medical oxygen and beds.

The people cited above said a message has been relayed to the elected representatives to make amends following the feedback that party leaders have been missing from the ground as well as social media platforms.

“There is a perception that while the BJP is keeping the focus on West Bengal [post-poll] violence, no one is interested in that. People are concerned about the pandemic, which has impacted almost everyone. While the government has been taking steps to help people, the ministers, MPs [members of parliament], and MLAs [members of legislative assembly] are not seen helping people and showing empathy,” said a party functionary, requesting anonymity.

The functionary said the elected representatives have been cautioned that before embarking on “image and perception” change, they will need to have proof of the work carried out.

The BJP swept to power in Uttar Pradesh in 2017 by winning 320 seats in a 403-member House. Its government has been criticised for the poor management of healthcare services in the state, which has registered 13,798 Covid-19 deaths until Wednesday, as per the government data.

Social media platforms have been flooded with videos of people struggling for oxygen. The Allahabad High Court on Tuesday said the deaths of Covid-19 patients due to lack of oxygen is a criminal act and “no less than genocide”.

BJP functionaries from the state, who spoke to HT on condition of anonymity, said the panchayat elections are an indication of the dip in the government’s popularity and the mounting anger over the lapses in providing essential healthcare facilities and oxygen.

“Though the panchayat elections are not fought on the party tickets, everyone knows which party has lent support to which candidate. And while we were expecting better results, the pandemic seems to have impacted people’s choices. I will not say that the results are a direct outcome of the second wave; there were some lapses even last year,” said a state party functionary, requesting anonymity.

The BJP faced losses even in its strongholds such as Ayodhya, Varanasi, Lucknow, and Gorakhpur. In Varanasi, the Samajwadi Party (SP) won 15 of the 40 wards, BJP and the BSP won seven each, and the Congress five. In Ayodhya, SP was the biggest gainer with 24 of the 40 wards. The BJP won six and BSP five wards. In Gorakhpur, the BJP, with 20 of the 68 wards, got just one more than the SP’s 19.

The state government has maintained it has made arrangements to augment hospital beds. Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath inaugurated the Atal Bihari Vajpayee COVID-19 Hospital set up by Defence Research and Development Organisation in Lucknow on Wednesday.

BJP functionaries, however, admit that the resources are stretched. “We have people knocking on our doors for help. The scale of the pandemic was not expected, but the lack of oxygen, even in hospitals has compounded the problems. People are angry,” said a legislator, who did not wish to be named. The legislator said he has been receiving distress calls from the rural areas as well, where infrastructure is woefully inadequate.

Sandeep Shastri, vice-chancellor, Jagran Lakecity University, said there has been an element of drift in the BJP government’s performance since the 2019 general elections. “Ever since the second wave, there has been a serious discussion on the inability of the government to handle the crisis and the consequent effort to try and place blinkers on the crisis. There is a trend of being in a denial mode,” he said. On the impact that the government’s response will have on the upcoming elections, he said, “Local body elections are a by-product of particularly local specificities. But the Panchayat election trends reflect that there is disappointment among the voters.”

The setback it faced in its bastions of Ayodhya, Varanasi, Lucknow, and Gorakhpur in the panchayat polls has caused an alarm within the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) that the handling of the Covid-19 crisis could have an adverse impact on its prospects in the 2022 assembly polls in Uttar Pradesh.

People aware of the matter said BJP MPs and legislators have now been asked to hit the ground running and help set up oxygen plants, increase hospital beds and procure medicines before embarking on any “self-promotion” on social media.

India faces the worst surge of Covid-19 infections as the second wave of the pandemic has starved hospitals of life-saving medical oxygen and beds.

The people cited above said a message has been relayed to the elected representatives to make amends following the feedback that party leaders have been missing from the ground as well as social media platforms.

“There is a perception that while the BJP is keeping the focus on West Bengal [post-poll] violence, no one is interested in that. People are concerned about the pandemic, which has impacted almost everyone. While the government has been taking steps to help people, the ministers, MPs [members of parliament], and MLAs [members of legislative assembly] are not seen helping people and showing empathy,” said a party functionary, requesting anonymity.

Also Read | Samajwadi Party says it won UP panchayat polls, will target assembly polls next

The functionary said the elected representatives have been cautioned that before embarking on “image and perception” change, they will need to have proof of the work carried out.

The BJP swept to power in Uttar Pradesh in 2017 by winning 320 seats in a 403-member House. Its government has been criticised for the poor management of healthcare services in the state, which has registered 13,798 Covid-19 deaths until Wednesday, as per the government data.

Social media platforms have been flooded with videos of people struggling for oxygen. The Allahabad High Court on Tuesday said the deaths of Covid-19 patients due to lack of oxygen is a criminal act and “no less than genocide”.

BJP functionaries from the state, who spoke to HT on condition of anonymity, said the panchayat elections are an indication of the dip in the government’s popularity and the mounting anger over the lapses in providing essential healthcare facilities and oxygen.

“Though the panchayat elections are not fought on the party tickets, everyone knows which party has lent support to which candidate. And while we were expecting better results, the pandemic seems to have impacted people’s choices. I will not say that the results are a direct outcome of the second wave; there were some lapses even last year,” said a state party functionary, requesting anonymity.

Also Read | 412,262 fresh Covid-19 cases take India’s tally to over 21 million

The BJP faced losses even in its strongholds such as Ayodhya, Varanasi, Lucknow, and Gorakhpur. In Varanasi, the Samajwadi Party (SP) won 15 of the 40 wards, BJP and the BSP won seven each, and the Congress five. In Ayodhya, SP was the biggest gainer with 24 of the 40 wards. The BJP won six and BSP five wards. In Gorakhpur, the BJP, with 20 of the 68 wards, got just one more than the SP’s 19.

The state government has maintained it has made arrangements to augment hospital beds. Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath inaugurated the Atal Bihari Vajpayee COVID-19 Hospital set up by Defence Research and Development Organisation in Lucknow on Wednesday.

BJP functionaries, however, admit that the resources are stretched. “We have people knocking on our doors for help. The scale of the pandemic was not expected, but the lack of oxygen, even in hospitals has compounded the problems. People are angry,” said a legislator, who did not wish to be named. The legislator said he has been receiving distress calls from the rural areas as well, where infrastructure is woefully inadequate.

Sandeep Shastri, vice-chancellor, Jagran Lakecity University, said there has been an element of drift in the BJP government’s performance since the 2019 general elections. “Ever since the second wave, there has been a serious discussion on the inability of the government to handle the crisis and the consequent effort to try and place blinkers on the crisis. There is a trend of being in a denial mode,” he said. On the impact that the government’s response will have on the upcoming elections, he said, “Local body elections are a by-product of particularly local specificities. But the Panchayat election trends reflect that there is disappointment among the voters.”

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