Uttar Pradesh: Political Parties Try Out New Strategies for Urban Local Body Elections

While both the BJP and BSP appear to be reaching out the Muslims, the Congress is relying on its regional presidents and the Samajwadi Party is focusing on social justice.

Lucknow: All the major political players have changed their old poll strategies for the urban local body (ULB) polls in Uttar Pradesh. Putting civic issues on the backburner, they are conducting new political experiments ahead of the crucial general elections in 2024.

To expand its outreach among Muslims, the Bharatiya Janta Party (BJP) has given nearly 350 tickets to Muslim candidates. In a bid to form Dalit-Muslim unity, the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) fielded 11 Muslim candidates for mayoral posts. The Congress is relying on its regional presidents for the ULB polls. The principal opposition party, the Samajwadi Party, is trying to bring the issue of social justice to the centre of politics to counter the communalism of the right-wing.

The BJP, which did not give a single ticket to a Muslim candidate in the Lok Sabha and assembly polls that were held between 2014 and 2023, has fielded 350 Muslim candidates for various posts, from nagar panchayat president to corporators of municipal corporations. However, the BJP did not field any Muslim candidates for the post of mayor.

The BJP has given preference to Pasmanda Muslims and given most tickets to them. Prime Minister Narendra Modi asked his party leaders to connect with Muslims during the BJP’s convention held in Hyderabad in August 2022. Following the prime minister’s signals, the BJP organised a Pasmanda Community Convention in Lucknow in October last year. Besides other BJP leaders, deputy chief minister Brijesh Pathak also attended the convention at which the saffron party vowed to give tickets to Pasmanda Muslims in the ULB polls.

Of late, to woo Muslims, the BJP nominated Tariq Mansoor, the former Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) vice-chancellor, as a member of UP’s legislative council. However, it is widely believed that the BJP is attempting to widen the fault lines between Muslims based on their social status, as the split in Muslim votes weakens secular parties in UP.

Muslims comprise 20% of the state’s population. Pasmanda community leaders claim they make up 85% of the Muslim population.

The Mayawati-led BSP also shifted its focus from the Brahmin community to Muslims. The Dalit rights party has given 11 tickets to Muslim candidates for the post of mayor of a total of 17 municipal corporations in the state. This is seen in the experiment on Dalit-Muslim unity for the BSP, which is facing an existential crisis. Earlier, in the 2022 assembly elections, the BSP put its faith in Brahmins, but this proved counterproductive.

The BSP’s outreach to Brahmins upset Muslims as well as its core Dalit voters. As a result, the party faced a massive debacle and bagged only one seat in an assembly of 403 seats.

Now, ahead of the general elections, the BSP is attempting to target Muslims who played instrumental roles in UP’s politics. It seems quite difficult for the BSP to win the trust of Muslims, as in the last assembly elections it presented itself as pro-Hindutva and promised swift construction of the Ram temple in Ayodhya.

However, political observers see the BJP and BSP’s Muslim outreach as merely an eyewash. Dr Utkarsh Sinha, a well-known political observer, says, “BJP has given tickets to Muslims in the ULB polls, where winners would not be more than toothless tigers. The BJP’s objective behind giving tickets to Muslims is to hide the reality that it is anti-Muslim.”  Sinha also opined that the BSP fielded Muslims to split Muslim votes, which would be beneficial for communal forces.

Meanwhile, in a new experiment, the Congress showed its trust in its regional presidents, who decided the candidates for the ULB polls. According to sources, the party’s top brass wants to test the waters on how the regional presidents perform ahead of the general elections.

At the time of appointing Brijlal Khabri as the state unit president, the Congress also appointed six provincial presidents, dividing the state into six parts to make the party structure formidable. Among them, two provincial presidents, Naseemuddin Siddiqui and Nakul Dubey, were cabinet ministers in the Mayawati government (2002–12). One provincial president, Virendra Chaudhary, is an MLA, and another, Ajay Rai, is a former MLA. This time, the party entered the municipal elections without the state committee.

The Samajwadi Party is trying to pitch its agenda of social justice in the ULB polls. During the campaign for his party candidate, Akhilesh Yadav, the party president, said that Ram Rajya was possible only when the caste census was done and everyone got a fair share in proportion to their population. He went on to say that whenever socialists raise the “caste census” issue, the BJP evades it.

The SP vowed to implement an urban employment guarantee scheme in Uttar Pradesh on the lines of the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGA) if it emerges victorious in the upcoming ULB polls.

The SP also promised to confer ‘Nagar Bharti Samman’ on those who do good work at the city level. Besides, Akhilesh’s party also vows to open Samajwadi canteens and grocery stores in urban areas.

In his election campaign, chief minister Adityanath is also setting a narrative on the “strong” law and order situation during his regime. He said that riots or curfews were things of the past in the state.

Akhilesh countered Adityanath’s narrative and asked the chief minister to disclose how many cases against him were withdrawn after he came to power and if those cases were linked to riots. He said the chief minister should reveal how many cases were pending against him that were withdrawn. Were those cases related to riots?

Mudit Mathur, a Lucknow-based senior journalist, says the Congress is not in the fight as its top brass are long absent on the ground. However, Mathur believes that the SP will give a tough fight to the BJP.

Mathur said, “Whenever parties raise the issue of social justice, they get their dividend.” The demand for a caste census might counter the communal agenda of the BJP, he said.

The elections across 760 ULBs will be held for 14,684 posts, including 17 mayoral seats and 1,420 councillor posts, in two phases on May 4 and May 11. The results will be declared on May 13. These polls are considered a “semifinal” for political parties in UP going into the 2024 general elections. The sends 80 members of parliament to the Lok Sabha.