Has the Adityanath government in Uttar Pradesh won a landslide victory in local body polls? Or does the Bharatiya Janata party’s performance hide a stark reality that the opposition parties are refusing to see?

Elections were held for 652 urban local bodies, which include 16 municipal corporations (nagar parishads), 198 municipal councils (nagar palikas) and 438 municipal panchayats (nagar panchayats). The BJP won 184 top posts (mayors and chairmen) – accounting for a little over 28% of the total 652 posts.

Source: State Election Commission Uttar Pradesh , Lucknow

In 2012, the BJP had won 88 of the 629 posts of heads of civic bodies then on offer, or about 14% of the total posts.

But that was at a time when the BJP had won only 47 seats, or about 12% of the seats in the Assembly elections held in the same year. This time, the party had won as many as 325 seats, or about 80% of the seats in the 403-seat Assembly in March.

Three years back, in 2014 Lok Sabha elections, the BJP had won 71 of the 80 seats, or about 89% of the seats in the state. Three years before the 2012 civic body elections, the party had won only 10 seats, or 8% of the seats in the state in the 2009 Lok Sabha elections.

In light of the above, the opposition parties ask, how correct is it to call winning 28% top posts of the local urban bodies a landslide victory?

The big prize?

The focus in most of the discussions, however, has been on the bigger cities, where the BJP won the top post of mayor in 14 out of 16 municipal corporations, that is in 87.5% of the posts. This percentage figure is closer to the 2014 Lok Sabha and the 2017 Assembly elections, but it should be remembered that the party had also won 10 out of 12 mayoral posts, or 83% of mayoral posts in 2012.

While the BJP won in all the four new corporations that were added this time – Ayodhya, Saharanpur, Firozabad and Mathura – it also lost Aligarh and Meerut to the Bahujan Samaj Party, and managed to win against it in Jhansi with only a narrow margin.

What detracts from the claim of a landslide victory in these civic body polls is that the BJP’s performance, as the chart above shows, appears to be rather underwhelming in municipal council and panchayat elections. Despite the local nature of these polls in which independents have traditionally played a big role, some have argued that the BJP appears to have lost a significant chunk of its support base, given that the party issued a full-fledged manifesto for these elections and Chief Minister Adityanath himself campaigned on war footing.

But the point to note is that even then the BJP managed to do better than any of the three main opposition parties.

While a detailed analysis of vote shares, past trends of the correlation between Assembly and civic body results, and the relationship of the large number of winning independents with various parties is required to pass any definitive judgement, it would be instructive to take a look at the combined number of seats won by the three main opposition parties – Bahujan Samaj Party, Samajwadi Party and Congress.

Source: State Election Commission Uttar Pradesh , Lucknow

This analysis need not even take into account the total number of seats contested by the parties on their symbols. Or the large number of seats won by independents, who may have tacit or explicit understanding with one political party or another. Just the combined number of seats won by the three main opposition parties, where the votes were divided among them, is indicative enough of what the scenario might have been if they had agreed on joint candidates and campaigned collectively.

The need for the opposition parties to come together, even if the BJP’s support base has declined, is the biggest learning from these results.

Simple mathematics

Take the smaller towns of the 438 municipal panchayats, where the BJP only won 100 of the top posts on offer – that is, less than 23% of the elected chairmen. While the BJP definitely performed better than any of the three other major parties in the state, the three of them combined won 145 chairmen posts.

The BJP’s performance was even worse in the 5433 results declared out of 5,434 seats for members in these panchayats. It won merely 664 seats – that is just about 12%. The three main opposition parties won 797 seats.

The result was no different in larger towns that have municipal councils. Of 198 such bodies, the BJP won 70 top posts of chairmen of these councils – that is, just above 35% of the total seats. The three top opposition parties won 83 posts of chairmen.

Similarly, the BJP won only 922 out of the 5,260 seats of councillors, that is just about 17%. The three opposition parties combined were only slightly behind, with a collective total of 897.

Even in the municipal corporations where it won as many as 14 of the 16 mayoral posts, the BJP’s performance wasn’t as impressive in the 1,299 declared seats out of a total of 1,300 seats for corporators – the party only won 596 of these seats, that is just about 46%.

Voting machines

Instead of looking at the index of opposition unity, the opposition, however, has once again chosen to focus on blaming the electronic voting machines. While elections in 16 municipal corporations were held through EVMs, in 438 municipal panchayats and 198 municipal councils, they were held through ballot papers.

The Bahujan Samaj Party Chief Mayawati, who had alleged in March that the EVMs had been tampered in the Assembly election, repeated the allegation on Saturday. “If the BJP is honest and believes in democracy, then discard EVMs and conduct voting on ballot papers. General Elections are due in 2019. If BJP believes people are with them, they must implement the ballot papers. I can guarantee if ballot papers are used, BJP won’t come to power,” she told media persons.

Hours later, the Samajwadi Party’s Akhilesh Yadav also joined Mayawati and declared that the BJP fared well only in those areas where EVMs were used.

The BJP pointed to the two seats won by the BSP as a counter. If the EVMs were rigged, the party asked, how could the BSP have won? Besides, the BJP argued, given the local issues on which these elections are fought, independents tend to traditionally win in large numbers and end up backing the party in power in the state.

The Congress leader Pramod Tiwari, while choosing to stay away from speculation regarding the EVMs, called the UP civic poll results an eye-opener for the BJP. “Why is the BJP silent on results in nagar panchayats and nagar palikas?” he asked. “Instead of creating hype on the basis of results only of municipal corporations, it should introspect as to why it has performed so badly in nagar panchayats and nagar palikas.”

Perhaps it is time for the opposition parties to introspect as well.