Rarely have civic body elections been watched as keenly as the polls in Uttar Pradesh on November 22, November 26 and November 29. The elections to 652 urban local bodies are being seen as a litmus test of the state government’s popularity – a test that has become critical in view of the fact that the Bharatiya Janata Party’s landslide win in the February-March Assembly polls remains clouded by allegations that many electronic voting machines had been tampered with.

In this month’s election, electronic voting machines will be used only in 16 municipal corporations. In 438 nagar panchayats (municipal boards) and 198 nagar palikas (town areas), paper ballots will be used. If the BJP emerges victorious in a large number of civic bodies where paper ballots are used, the charges of tampering will lose their sting and silence the Opposition, observers say.

A loss, on the other hand, might simply give credence to the allegations. This may undermine the BJP government in popular perception and boost the state’s main Opposition parties. The Samajwadi Party, Bahujan Samaj Party and Congress have been gasping for air since suffering a double defeat at the hands of the BJP, first in the Lok Sabha elections in 2014 and then the Assembly polls this year.

These elections might also have a ripple effect on the Assembly polls in Gujarat, where Prime Minister Narendra Modi is locked in a make-or-break battle with the Congress. Votes will be counted for the civic polls in Uttar Pradesh on December 1 while the elections in Modi’s home state are scheduled to be held on December 9 and December 14.

Popularity test for Adityanath

For Chief Minister Adityanath, the stakes in the urban local bodies elections are very high. If the BJP wins, his stature as Hindutva’s election-winning mascot will grow immensely – not just within the party and the state but outside too. Conversely, a loss could deal his status a severe blow.

The chief minister’s popularity has dipped in recent months because of several factors, including the loss of jobs caused by his government’s decision to close down illegal slaughterhouses and the deaths of 63 children at the Baba Raghav Das Medical College Hospital in Gorakhpur in August, allegedly as a result of a disruption in oxygen supply.

It is not without reason, therefore, that Adityanath is going all out to campaign for the elections. He started with a rally in Ayodhya on Tuesday and is scheduled to hold one in each of the 16 municipal corporations.

BJP’s Brahmin-Baniya equation

The manner in which the BJP’s core constituency of Brahmins and Baniyas vote will be closely watched. It has been speculated that these social groups are upset with the party. While the Brahmins are said to be agitated over Adityanath’s perceived preference for members of his Thakur community in government appointments, the trading Baniya community suffered business losses as a result of the Modi government’s decision to demonetise high-value currency notes last year and the snag-hit rollout in July of the Goods and Services Tax, a single nationwide tax that subsumes all Central and state levies. The communities together account for around 13% of the state’s population.

To assuage their sentiments, the BJP has given the lion’s share of tickets for the posts of mayor in the state’s municipal corporations to Brahmin and Baniya candidates. But the party is still not sure if they have managed to garner their votes. The civic polls will, therefore, be an acid test for the BJP on this count too.