Candidates and their followers waiting for results as Officers busy Counting of votes of Zila and Gram Panchayat in Prayagraj (PTI)
LUCKNOW/AGRA: The Samajwadi Party (SP) is surging ahead in the Uttar Pradesh panchayat polls, considered the bellwether of the high-stakes assembly polls next year, with counting trends indicating that SP-supported candidates were frontrunners in 747 zila panchayat wards, while BJP-backed nominees were leading or have won 666 seats.
This has led to BJP scrambling to open back-channel negotiations with Independents who have won or are leading in 3,050 zila panchayat wards to seize control over the top tier of rural local bodies.
Top sources in BJP said, the party is trying to reach out to 1,238 Independent candidates to wrest maximum posts of zila panchayat chairpersons, which would be held through indirect election.
Trends show BSP and Congress supported candidates were leading on more than 322 and 77 zila panchayat wards, respectively.
Though panchayat polls are not contested on party symbols, parties field their candidates and election campaigns are conducted in a centralised manner.
A senior BJP functionary confirmed to that the party was in touch with Independents, who also comprise party rebels. “Panchayat elections are more about local influential candidates who contest without support of any political party. That is the reason most winners or frontrunners are Independents. We fielded our party functionaries to cultivate grassroots leadership, which holds the key for any political party,” said UP BJP vice-president and party in-charge for panchayat elections, Vijay Bahadur Pathak.
While Pathak refused to comment on back-channel talks with Independents, experts said that BJP enjoys the advantage of being the ruling party and would garner the support of Independents to win zila panchayat chairperson posts.
BJP fared poorly even in places where it provided strategic support. In Mainpuri, the party failed to take advantage of roping in Sandhya Yadav, niece of Samajwadi Party patriarch Mulayam Singh Yadav. Sandhya was defeated by SP-backed candidate Pramod Yadav. While SP won 12 seats, BJP got eight seats. Congress won one seat and nine went to Independent candidates.
In Aligarh, Independents stole the show by winning 21 of the 47 seats. BJP and SP won nine and seven seats, respectively.
SP chief spokesperson Rajendra Chaudhary said the party’s impressive performance was despite BJP deploying its entire political machinery, including MPs, MLAs and ministers, in the villages. “The voting pattern in panchayat elections is a pointer to what lies in store in the 2022 assembly elections. People have understood the real face and governance of BJP,” he said.
Chaudhary claimed the party had also decided to leave seats where Independent candidates were in a better position. “Independents won’t get trampled upon by BJP,” he said.
State BJP secretary Vijay Shivhare, however, claimed that most of the Independent candidates who won were from BJP, so the party had “gained significantly”.