The ruling BJP’s sweep in the Uttar Pradesh rural body elections on Saturday, in which the party won a large number of seats uncontested, appears to follow a long-term pattern in the state, contrary to claims by rivals like former Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav’s Samajwadi Party.
The high number of uncontested seats – between 30 and 40% – has been cited by opposition parties as proof that the Yogi Adityanath-led BJP government used unfair means to coerce a win, in addition to violence and intimidation.
The BJP swept elections to district panchayat chairpersons and block pramukhs (chiefs); voting is indirect in these elections and through elected representatives. But it lost in May to the Samajwadi Party (SP) in the panchayat elections, which involves direct voting by the public.
In 2016, when the Samajwadi Party was in power, the pattern appears to have been the same – the ruling SP had swept the district panchayat chairperson and block pramukh seats despite winning fewer seats than rival Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) in the panchayat election.
In fact in 2016, the Samajwadi won 36 of the district panchayat seats – 49 % – unopposed, more than the BJP, which won 21 (28%) of the unopposed seats in the election to the same posts this year.
Similarly, in elections for block pramukhs in 2016, a total of 385 (47%) of seats were won without a contest, more than this year’s election, in which the BJP won 334 (40%) of the seats unopposed. The party-wise break up of seats that were won unopposed in 2016 is unavailable, but it is safe to assume that a bulk of them was won by the SP, which swept the elections.
Candidates in local body polls are not allowed to contest on party symbols, so data used for this analysis is based on estimates released by the parties.
Block and district level elections in UP this year have been marked by violent incidents. A viral video that emerged from Lakhimpur showed women members of the Samajwadi Party being assaulted, allegedly by BJP supporters. The Samajwadi candidate could not file her nomination and the BJP won the seat.
Despite the violence, the BJP has celebrated its win. Prime Minister Narendra Modi tweeted praise, saying, “The benefits that the people have got from the government’s policies have been reflected in the party’s massive victory.”
Sharat Pradhan, a senior Lucknow-based journalist, said the pattern had only been broken in the degree of violence during the polls. “This (violence) has been happening in successive governments, whether it was BSP, whether it was SP and now the BJP… But the difference is now it seems to be no holds barred,” he said.