Parties using Uttar Pradesh civic elections to feel pulse for 2024 Lok Sabha polls
Muslim voting pattern of key interest in the two-phase urban local bodies’ elections that will begin in Uttar Pradesh on Thursday
From tactical alliances to voting patterns, political parties are looking at the ongoing urban local bodies polls, the first phase of which will be held in Uttar Pradesh on Thursday, to assess the larger picture ahead of the 2024 Lok Sabha polls, now just about a year away.
“It’s an interesting paradox. A party like the BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party), which has for long been projected as anti-Muslim, has fielded the biggest batch of Muslims in these elections. Then, there is former chief minister and BSP (Bahujan Samaj Party) leader Mayawati whose decision to name 11 Muslims for 17 mayoral seats has surprised many,” said political analyst AP Tiwari.
“The Samajwadi Party (SP) has not fielded a single Yadav in the mayoral polls, which is another interesting political experiment to watch out for. As for the Congress, its leaders tell us that possibly even Priyanka Gandhi had been approached for the campaign in some of the seats in these polls. This means that the Congress is not taking these polls lightly either,” Tiwari added.
Political analysts are watching keenly how the Muslims vote in these urban polls in which about 4.23 crore voters are eligible to exercise their franchise on May 4 and 11.
“The BJP hasn’t just fielded its biggest batch of Muslim candidates. It also has perhaps the biggest batch of minority campaigners who are out to remind their community how the new ‘MY’ (Modi-Yogi) combination has helped the poorest of the poor. We have fielded 395 (Muslim) candidates in these elections and mind you, the results will surprise many,” said Javed Malik, the chief of BJP’s minority wing in west UP.
Mayawati’s decision to name 11 of the 17 mayoral candidates from Muslim community has come in for much criticism from the SP and the Congress leaders, who claimed that this was another proof of the BSP being the BJP’s “B” team.
The criticism rests on the premise that the move would scatter the minority vote to the BJP’s advantage, a repeat of the Azamgarh Lok Sabha bypoll in June last year.
The BSP’s decision to name a local Muslim in the Azamgarh bypoll fray was held responsible for the Samajwadi Party’s surprise loss in the Muslim-dominated Lok Sabha constituency though the SP holds all the 10 assembly seats that make up the Azamgarh Lok Sabha constituency. The BJP also won the Muslim-majority Rampur Lok Sabha seat in another bypoll in June last. Months later, it bagged the Rampur (Sadar) assembly seat for the first time.
“The SP-RLD decision to back the Congress- supported candidate for the mayoral seat in Mathura is another interesting development. I do not know the circumstances in which it has come about. Surely given the recent developments to forge opposition unity, the Mathura development appears significant,” said Irshad Ilmi, a political observer.
“This one-against-one talk to take on the BJP makes it clear that the opposition now realises that Modi can’t be defeated unless there is a joint effort and since that absolute unity appears elusive, it is anybody’s guess on what may happen in the 2024 polls. Nevertheless, these things make urban local body polls even more interesting from the larger political perspective,” added Ilmi.
In Mathura, Congress leader Shyam Sunder Upadhyaya ‘Bittu’ filed his nomination for the mayoral polls against the party’s official nominee. A technicality led to Bittu, however, being allotted the Congress party’s ‘hand’ symbol. After this, the official Congress nominee Raj Kumar Rawat decided to contest as an independent and was allotted ‘jeep’ as his election symbol. The local SP-RLD leaders announced the party leadership had decided to back the Congress-backed Rawat. The official SP candidate has turned ‘rebel’.
For the first phase seats that go to polls on May 4, the parties are also testing caste appeals.
Along with Muslims for non-mayoral seats, the BJP has stuck to upper castes, bania and kayastha communities while deciding candidates for mayoral seats. The Samajwadi Party appears to be re-engaging with non-Yadav OBCs – a strategy that SP chief Akhilesh Yadav aggressively pursued in the 2022 UP polls when three non-Yadav OBC ministers, along with several other lawmakers in the BJP government, had joined the SP.
The SP chief’s recent decision to unveil a statue of BSP founder Kanshiram in a fresh bid to attract the Dalit voters considered loyal to Mayawati, appears to be a key reason for the BSP deciding to field several Muslims.
Despite its dominance in urban local body polls, the swiftness with which the BJP got the SP’s mayoral candidate Archana Verma to defect and named her as its candidate from Shahjahanpur in what was described as an “overnight coup” indicated to many the importance that the BJP was attributing to these polls.
In the same way, Samajwadi Party chief Akhilesh Yadav joining the civic poll campaign, for the first time, indicated that the opposition too was unwilling to allow the BJP an easy win.