When the Mayawati-led Bahujan Samaj Party was wiped out in last year’s general election, political pundits were quick to declare its demise and the end of identity politics in Uttar Pradesh.

Having hit rock-bottom, dispirited BSP cadres lay low. Mayawati also opted to keep a low profile, although she occasionally makes her presence felt in the Rajya Sabha.

However, the zila panchayat election results declared this week have given the BSP rank and file something to cheer about. Mayawati’s party has registered impressive gains in these local elections, a clear indicator that the BSP and its chief political rival, Mulayum Singh Yadav’s Samajwadi Party, remain the key players in Uttar Pradesh politics. The Bharatiya Janata Party, which swept the state in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, is in third position while the Congress has proved to be a virtual non-starter.

Taking the plunge

Usually the BSP avoids the zila panchayat elections, claiming that the local rivalries thrown up during the contest tend to hurt its prospects in subsequent assembly polls. However, the party made an exception this year. Since the zila panchayat elections are not fought on party symbols,  it announced the names of the candidates it was supporting.

Despite being hesitant about participating in the elections, Mayawati decided to go  because she wanted to gauge the situation on the ground and try to establish the extent of the support enjoyed by her party. After the BSP rout in the Lok Sabha elections, the perception arose that the party would not find it easy to regain lost ground. The zila panchayat results will undoubtedly enthuse BSP supporters to start working towards a possible victory in the 2017 assembly election.

Mayawati will be particularly pleased at the party’s win in Agra, Ambedkar Nagar, Hathras and adjoining districts in Western Uttar Pradesh, where the party had lost out to a resurgent BJP in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls in the wake of the Muzaffarnagar riots.

Similarly, Mayawati will also be comforted by the gains made by her party in Mulayum Singh Yadav’s constituency Azamgarh. Again, the BSP scored  over the Samajwadi Party as the relatives of many of its leaders  emerged victorious even as the relations of  the ruling party’s ministers were defeated. Mulayum Singh Yadav was dealt another blow as his own relatives were shown the door, a clear sign that voters are not happy with the brazen manner in which the Samajwadi Party leader has been promoting his family members. “This is a clear rejection of  parivar wad,“ remarked a  SP leader from Uttar Pradesh.

Wake-up call

In fact, these local elections should serve as a wake-up call for the Akhilesh Yadav government. The young chief minister has more than a year to take corrective measures before the next assembly polls. He has made a move in that direction when he went in for a drastic cabinet reshuffle last week, dropping nine ministers.

If these elections are taken as a pointer, it would appear that the Samajwadi Party will be pitted against the BSP in the next assembly polls. For instance, the Samajwadi Party’s impressive performance in the 2010 local polls when the BSP was in power in Uttar Pradesh was the first sign that the ground was shifting in its favour.

The BJP has notched up some wins in these local polls but its graph has fallen since its dream run in last year’s Lok Sabha elections. The saffron party was left red-faced with the defeat of its candidate in  Jayapur , the village adopted by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The BJP was able to bag only eight of the 48 zila panchayat seats in the prime minister's constituency Varanasi. As for the Congress, it continues to languish at number four position.