UP civic poll campaign: Helicopters, Adityanath—BJP leaves no stone unturned

There is more to the BJP’s assembly-poll like campaigning for these civic polls in which it has also fielded largest number of Muslim candidates besides releasing its civic manifesto – a first.

lucknow Updated: Nov 25, 2017 23:35 IST
Manish Chandra Pandey
Manish Chandra Pandey
Hindustan Times, Lucknow
Uttar Pradesh,civic poll campaign,Yogi Adityanath
Utter Pradesh chief minister Yogi Adityanath campaigning for BJP mayoral candidate Sanyukta Bhatia on the last day of the second phase of campaigning at Kapurthala in Lucknow, on Friday.(Subhankar Chakraborty/HT PHOTO)

A few days back chief minister Yogi Adityanath had laughed off a query, ‘will the results of the elections to the 653 urban local bodies be a referendum of sorts on the 8-month-old BJP government in the state?’

“The opponents have already fled,” Adityanath had said in response indicating he was confident of a one-sided win.

But surely there is more to the BJP’s assembly-poll like campaigning for these civic polls in which it has also fielded largest number of Muslim candidates besides releasing its civic manifesto – a first.

A campaign blitzkrieg featuring 33 to 35 political rallies by Adityanath – highest for any UP chief minister --showcases the party’s intent for these polls for which it is also using two to three helicopters for campaign. Union home minister and Lucknow MP Rajnath Singh, who will be in Lucknow on November 26 to cast his vote, has twice visited the state capital to “encourage” the cadre and a UP minister has been tasked with the responsibility of key districts and mayoral seats – Ayodhya, Mathura, Kashi and Gorakhpur – in particular.

At stake are 653 urban local bodies and the nearly 8000 wards where the party has put up candidates on its lotus symbol, which UP BJP general secretary (organisation) Sunil Bansal says is the biggest BJP contingent ever for these urban local body polls. Ayodhya and Mathra, the two key Hindu pilgrimage cities high on BJP’s agenda, are also first-time mayoral corporations where the party can’t afford not to have its mayor.

“These are the kind of high-impact seats where if BJP does badly, as we are hoping it does, the symbolic takeaways from that will be huge. We are aware of that and working to a plan,” an OBC leader from the Samajwadi Party told HT.

But then in the past 15 years even when it wasn’t doing well in assembly and national elections, the BJP had consistently won these polls earning the sobriquet of a ‘shahari (urban) party’ unlike Samajwadi Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party with greater rural penetration.

Read More: In a first, Uttar Pradesh local polls get national-level campaigns

For instance the BJP had won 10 of the 12 mayoral seats in urban local body polls in 2012 despite getting a shocking 15% vote share in the assembly elections the same year.

In two years’ time, the BJP riding on an unprecedented Modi wave saw its vote share zoom to 42.6% in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls as it won 71 out of 80 seats from UP. In the assembly polls three years later, BJP maintained its connect with its new-found rural constituency and its new OBC and Dalit voters to post a stunning 312 seat win, garnering nearly 40% of the vote share. In the 2017 UP polls, the first BJP win was reported from the Muslim dominated Deoband in west UP – home to a prominent Islamic seminary.

Now, for the first time – the BJP often criticised for not fielding Muslims in big ticket elections – has fielded its biggest ever batch of minority candidates. “There are as many as 17 minority candidates for Nagar Palika Parishad and Nagar Palika Panchayat chief’s post alone leave. That is besides scores of others we have fielded for corporators on our ticket,” says BJP’s civic-election in-charge JPS Rathore.

So is there a method to BJP’s aggressive civic election campaign?

“Yes, these elections would help us check our preparedness for 2019 Lok Sabha elections, re-connect with our audience but more important than that is we also get to look at whether our political opponents mauled in 2014 Lok Sabha and 2017 UP polls have managed to gain some lost ground,” a BJP leader part of the party’s think tank told HT.

The quote has a context. These elections are also going to be a reflection of 8 month old Adityanath government and the party also wants to ensure that its cadres don’t get ‘rusty’ and complacent after two spectacular wins.

But it is also the first time that the Samajwadi Party has decided to check its urban presence under Akhilesh Yadav and the first time Bahujan Samaj Party’s chief Mayawati has decided to check her party’s acceptability among urban voters in the elections that had been largely fought till now on ‘bijli, sadak, paani’ (power, road and water) issues.

“It is also a good time to check the voting pattern of Dalits and OBCs, the two groups associated with BSP and Samajwadi Party in the past who voted for the BJP. More than BSP that used to control Dalit votes, it’s the Akhilesh Yadav led Samajwadi Party’s OBC presence that we want tested. OBC’s are numerically greater and far significant, reason enough that party’s OBC leader and deputy chief minister Keshav Prasad Maurya has nearly 50 plus rallies lined up for him,” said a BJP strategist.

The civic poll results would be out on December 1 – just before Gujarat goes to vote. “Given the scale at which the party is contesting the UP polls, a good show will of course ensure good publicity that would do BJP no harm ahead of Gujarat polls. A good showing could also brighten up the prospect of national polls being advanced,” says Athar Siddiqui from the Centre of Objective Research and Development.

First Published: Nov 25, 2017 23:35 IST