New Delhi: The three-tier panchayat polls in Uttar Pradesh ended with the Zila Panchayat chairperson elections held on July 3. In this election, members of the Zila Panchayats vote to elect chairpersons for all 75 districts in the state, one per district.
The BJP won 65 chairpersons’ posts and its ally Apna Dal, won two.
The Samajwadi Party won only five, while the other three seats were bagged by a Lok Dal candidate, a Jansatta Dal candidate and one remaining seat was won by an independent candidate. The BSP was not in the fray after party chief Mayawati decided to stay away from this election. Congress won no seats.
Chairpersons of 22 Zila Panchayats out of the total 75 were on Tuesday declared “elected unopposed” with the BJP claiming victory in 21 seats, and Samajwadi Party bagging the one remaining seat in Etawah district.
The election for over 8.69 lakh posts, including the 3,050 Zila Panchayat member seats, was held in four phases in April this year. These polls are not held on party lines but candidates have political affiliations and are decided by the respective parties. While independent candidates won the maximum seats, Samajwadi Party along with Rashtriya Lok Dal came second and BJP, third. BJP also lost in key citadels like Ayodhya, Mathura and Varanasi.
Out of the 3,050 district panchayat ward members who were elected, more than 1,000 were independent candidates or members of smaller parties. More than 700 seats were bagged by the Samajwadi Party and more than 500 by the BJP.
However, BJP claimed the most number of seats saying that independent candidates were supported by the BJP. The district panchayat members declared between May 2 and May 5, voted in this indirect election to elect district heads.
However, it is surprising how despite bagging fewer seats than SP in the Panchayat polls held in April, the BJP managed to get most seats in the chairpersons elections – which is an indirect election i.e. members are not directly voted by the public.
A few weeks before the Zila Panchayat president polls, the Samajwadi Party had said that it was ready to give BJP a tough fight and win at least 50 of the 75 seats. These elections are significant because they are being held just eight months before the upcoming Uttar Pradesh assembly elections in 2022.
After the BJP’s win in the chairperson elections, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Union Home Minister Amit Shah and BJP member and badminton star Saina Nehwal congratulated Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Adityanath for the victory.
However, opposition leaders allege corruption, threats, money, attacks on property of candidates and forced withdrawals lie behind this ‘victory’.
On the day of the polls, July 3, a video of Auraiya’s District Magistrate Sunil Kumar Verma tweeted by the official handle of Samajwadi Party went viral on social media. In the video, he can be heard talking about shutting down a camera just before the chairperson election, making an SP candidate lose.
औरैया के सत्ता परस्त DM का कैमरे के सामने शर्मनाक “कबूलनामा”!
जिला पंचायत अध्यक्ष चुनाव से ठीक पहले कैमरा खराब कर सपा प्रत्याशी को जबरन चुनाव हरा देने का एलान।
वीडियो का संज्ञान ले चुनाव आयोग।
लोकतंत्र की हत्या रोककर निष्पक्ष चुनाव हो सुरक्षित।
DM पर हो तुरंत सख्त कार्रवाई। pic.twitter.com/wToZuKuaFn
— Samajwadi Party (@samajwadiparty) July 3, 2021
Demanding strict action against the DM, the party’s official statement said, “In a shameful incident, Auraiya District Magistrate accepted manipulations in the elections in front of the camera. He said that he will switch off the camera and will defeat the SP candidate forcefully. Election commission should take cognizance of this. Murder of democracy should be stopped and elections should be free and fair.”
‘Intimidation with state machinery’
Roughly 15 days before the polls, Samajwadi Party president Akhilesh Yadav said that the ruling BJP is using “state machinery” to “intimidate” panchayat members to force them to vote for its candidates. The party had also complained to the state police chief, but to “no avail,” as per members.
In a statement issued by the party, Yadav further stated that the BJP, upset over its defeat in the panchayat elections, was distraught. “Not having the numbers, the distraught BJP leadership is misusing the government machinery to ensure that their party nominees win…” he said. Further, he said that such repressive policies were a gross misuse of power, putting democracy in danger.
Yadav alleged that elected Zila Panchayat members of the Samajwadi Party in Auraiya, Mainpuri, Firozabad, Etah, Hapur, Siddharthnagar, Rampur, Gorakhpur and Farrukhabad were being harassed by the BJP to vote in its favour. He said even family members of panchayat members were not spared, and were harassed in different ways using government machinery.
Rajendra Chaudhary, Samajwadi Party spokesperson, claimed that party workers were beaten with lathis in several districts like Lucknow, Prayagraj, Pratapgarh and Kaushambi while they were protesting against the “favours” allegedly extended to the BJP on the day of the elections.
In a statement, Akhilesh Yadav chief said: “By throwing all democratic ethics and norms to the wind and turning the elections into a joke, the BJP converted its defeat in the panchayat elections into a victory in Zila Panchayat chiefs’ elections. The BJP held the voters (Zila Panchayat members) hostage, lured and intimidated them. And when SP leaders protested against the malpractices, the administration misbehaved with them.”
On July 5, BJP member Poonam Maurya, who had won the chairperson election unopposed from Varanasi district, was challenged by Samajwadi Party’s Chanda Yadav in a district court. Chanda Yadav had alleged that his nomination papers were rejected by the district election officer on the ground of “non-renewal of authorisation” of the notary lawyer who issued her affidavit.
Abhay Nath Yadav, the SP candidate’s lawyer, said that there is no such rule in place for the Uttar Pradesh Zila Panchayat elections. In fact, rule 10(4) of UP Zila Panchayat Act states that no nomination can be rejected on the basis of technical errors, he added.
District judge Om Prakash Tripathi served a notice to the Uttar Pradesh government, district magistrate/district election officer and BJP’s Poonam Maurya, and fixed the next date of hearing for August 6.
‘Forced to join BJP’
In Baghpat, a week before the election, RLD’s Mamta Kishore had made headlines by joining the BJP, and then returning to the RLD the same day. She won the Baghpat Zila Panchayat chairperson’s post on Saturday. Jay Kishore, Mamta Kishore’s husband while speaking to The Wire alleged that the local administration had forced him and his wife to join the BJP.
The day that Kishore filed her nomination papers, her husband in a press conference alleged that the couple was threatened with “fake legal action” by some people and asked to join the BJP if they wanted to avoid it.
In Muzaffarnagar, voters were intimidated and forced to remain inside their houses, said RLD’s Sateyndra Balyan, who lost the Muzaffarnagar seat to BJP-backed candidate Veerpal Nirwal. Sateyndra is Union minister and local BJP MP Sanjeev Balyan’s cousin.
He told The Wire that at least nine Zila Panchayat members abstained from voting.
“While some Panchayat members were scared so much that they decided to stay inside their houses on the polling day, the remaining were forced to vote in favour of Veerpal Nirwal,” he said, adding that a complaint will soon be lodged in connection with this with the State Election Commission.
‘Prevented’ from filing papers
On Saturday, the Samajwadi Party sacked 11 of its district unit presidents after many of the party’s nominees did not turn up to file their nomination papers. The districts were Gorakhpur, Moradabad, Jhansi, Agra, Gautam Buddh Nagar, Mau, Balrampur, Shravasti, Bhadohi, Gonda and Lalitpur.
While the party did not clearly state the reason for this unprecedented move, sources said that it was done because these members had not filed their nomination papers.
Akhilesh Yadav, in a tweet, alleged that many of his party’s nominees were “prevented” from filing their nomination papers. “The way in which the BJP government has prevented the Samajwadi Party candidates from filing nominations for the election of panchayat chairperson in Gorakhpur and elsewhere, it is a new administrative tactic of the defeated BJP to win the election. The people will not even give as many seats in the Assembly to the BJP as they will make panchayat chiefs,” he said in a tweet.
SP member ‘beaten up’
A week before the election, when Samajwadi Party candidate Jitendra Yadav reached the office to file his nomination papers, scores of people calling themselves supporters of BJP candidate Sadhna Singh, MLA Fateh Bahadur Singh’s wife, beat him up at Collectorate gate, he said.
“I was not allowed to file my nomination papers,” he had told the media.
Police, admin ‘action’ on Congress member’s house
Just three days before the polls, on June 29, a team of police along with the SDM reached Congress’s Badaun Zila Panchayat member Ishwarwati’s house to tear it down. A crowd gathered around the house and Congress district president Omkar Singh too reached the spot. Police withdrew but gave her a “warning” that her house was constructed on Gram Panchayat land.
While speaking to The Wire, she said that her house is in the middle of the village, along with other houses and that it was an attempt to “threaten” her. Omkar Singh too said that police were acting under “political influence.”
“If her house was illegal, why was no notice served to her before police directly arrived to tear it down? She was being threatened this way so she votes in favour of the BJP on polling day,” he said.