The Bharatiya Janata Party suffered setbacks in its strongholds like Ayodhya, Varanasi, Gorakhpur and Lucknow in the recently held Uttar Pradesh local body elections, the Hindustan Times reported on Wednesday. In the overall results too, the ruling BJP was locked in a close fight with the Samajwadi Party.

Over 8.69 lakh posts were up for grabs in the polls held in four phases ending on April 29. The elections were held for local body positions at the village level (gram panchayat), block level (kshetra panchayat) and district level (zila panchayat). While the elections were not held on party symbols, political outfits backed respective candidates and are claiming their victories on that basis. The counting for the elections, which began on May 2, was still underway.

Trends and results available on Tuesday evening showed that out of 3,050 zila panchayat wards, the Samajwadi Party bagged 760 of them, the BJP got 719 and the Bahujan Samaj Party won in 381. The Congress secured victories in 76 district-level wards, while Independents and smaller parties won 1,114 of them, the Hindustan Times reported.

In Varanasi, the Lok Sabha constituency of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the BJP could win only eight of the 40 zila panchayat seats, while the Samajwadi Party won 14, India Today reported. The Bahujan Samaj Party won five seats and Apna Dal (Sonelal) got three.

In Ayodhya, while Samajwadi Party won 24 of 40 wards, BJP won six and Bahujan Samaj Party won five wards. In capital Lucknow, the Akhilesh Yadav-led outfit gained victory in 10 of the 25 wards, while BJP could win only six. In Gorakhpur, the home turf of Chief Minister Adityanath, BJP won 20 of the 68 wards, but Samajwadi Party came a close second with 19 wards.

The local body polls assumed significance as they will be the last elections held in the state before the contest for the Uttar Pradesh Assembly in 2022.

The counting for the elections was marred with controversy after a petition was moved to the Supreme Court seeking directions to defer the process amid a surge of coronavirus cases. The petition was a challenge to an earlier order passed by the Allahabad High Court refusing to delay the counting process. However, the Supreme Court too refused to defer the counting on assurance from the state election commission that Covid-19 protocols will be followed during counting.

Nonetheless, during the hearing of a suo motu case on the state government’s handling of the pandemic, the Allahabad High Court had issued a notice to the state election commission on the reported death of 135 polling officers due to coronavirus during the panchayat elections. Few days later, a teachers’ unions in Uttar Pradesh also submitted a report to the state election commission, which said that 577 educators and support staff had died while on poll duty .