The real story of the party’s big loss in vote share lies in the bottom two tiers of positions that were up for grabs.
Bharatiya Janata Party president Amit Shah has said the Uttar Pradesh (UP) civil poll results are a barometer of the nation’s mood. If this were true, then the nation’s mood clearly is to give the BJP far less votes as well as seats in future elections.
An examination of the votes cast in the three tiers of the urban governance bodies in UP roughly suggests that the BJP’s vote share may have dropped by a total of 10 to 12 percentage points from the 42% vote share it achieved in the UP assembly polls earlier this year.
Shah also indicated that the UP results will have its effect on the upcoming Gujarat elections and made an even more astonishing claim that the civic polls reflect a clear endorsement of demonetisation and the goods and services tax regime. Did Shah get carried away by the PR machine of his own party, which spun a narrative of a total “sweep” for the BJP based on the results of just the top tier (mayors for municipal corporations) – in which the BJP got 14 out of 16 seats?
In the bottom two tiers, comprising presidents for municipal councils and Nagar Panchayat Parishads, the BJP has lost considerable vote share when compared to the UP assembly polls. The bottom two tiers also have a much larger number of voters. If this pattern were to repeat in Gujarat, as Shah wishes, the BJP may emerge with egg on its face.
The BJP president therefore should fervently hope that the pattern of the UP civic polls doesn’t repeat in Gujarat.
For starters, the civic polls can hardly be called a sweep for the BJP – a picture that the most TV news channels painted immediately after the results started coming. Two broad brush numbers will establish this point. The BJP got less than 30% of the 652 posts of heads of urban bodies in all the tiers that went to the polls. The BJP got 184 out of 652 posts consisting of 16 mayors (top tier), 198 municipal council heads (second tier) and Nagar Panchayat heads (438).
While the BJP did win over 85% of the top tier i.e. corporation heads, its record in the third tier is very poor. In the election to the heads of Nagar Panchayat, the independents lead the way by capturing 182 out of 438 posts. The BJP won 100 posts, the Samajwadi Party 83, the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) 45 and the Congress 17.
In the second tier, the BJP did emerge as the single largest party but with a much reduced vote share than the 42% it got in the UP assembly polls earlier this year.
More significantly, the BJP has faced heavy losses in the Tier-II and Tier-III civic bodies in western UP. The losses are palpable in Shamli, Bhagpat, Muzzafarnagar, Meerut. Strangely, the Hindu polarisation politics triggered by chief minister Yogi Adityanath starting his campaign from Ayodhya doesn’t seem to have had much effect. Remember, in western UP, the BJP had got about 44% of the votes in the assembly polls earlier this year. The BSP ended up bagging the mayor’s post in Meerut and Aligarh.
The vote share in Western UP may have dropped over 10 percentage points for the BJP compared to the assembly election figures. This is very significant considering that the farmers’ disenchantment with the BJP peaked in recent months in this middle peasant-dominated Jat belt. By one estimate, the BJP vote share in the tier 3 of western UP may have dropped to less than 25%, which is a huge loss.
Given these numbers, Shah can hardly claim that the UP civic polls are a big endorsement of the party in the backdrop of GST.
Indeed, if these statistics represent the national mood, as he claims, then the opposition may actually have cause to celebrate. But the BJP leadership seems to be basking in the lazy media narrative of a “total sweep” for the party in the civic polls. Chief minister Adityanath came to New Delhi and met Prime Minister Narendra Modi to emphasise his victory.
Modi may have acted his part for the cameras but numbers show the BJP has always dominated the top tier. The real story of their big loss in vote share lies in the bottom tiers.