How Municipal Polls In Uttar Pradesh May Hold Sway Over National Politics

by Dr A K Verma - Nov 22, 2017 02:46 PM +05:30 IST
How Municipal Polls In Uttar Pradesh May Hold Sway Over National PoliticsChief Minister Uttar Pradesh Yogi Adityanath waves his hand to the crowd along with BJP state president Mahendra Nath Pandey and BJP mayor candidate for Ayodhya and Faizabad. (Deepak Gupta/Hindustan Times via Getty Images)
Snapshot
  • It would be a good idea to integrate the local with the provincial and the national, but not before autonomy of urban local bodies is enhanced.

We used to hear in our childhood that the route to ‘Dilli-Darbar’ passes through Uttar Pradesh (UP). We little understood the real intent of the saying then. As youth, we understood the importance of UP in national politics because of its huge demographic weight and large contingent in the Lok Sabha that produced several prime ministers. Interestingly, even a person of Narendra Modi’s political acumen fully understood the real intent of the saying and shifted his base from Gujarat to UP to become the Prime Minister of the country in 2014.

A new dimension to the current scenario is that even municipal polls in the state are assuming the ability to influence politics not only within the state but also outside. The ongoing municipal election may possibly be a referendum on UP Chief Minister Adityanath Yogi’s eight months tenure, but most likely may also have a direct bearing on Gujarat assembly elections slated in the second and third weeks of December 2017. The Gujarat outcome may give the winning party additional handle to fight next parliamentary elections in 2019 and, thus, UP municipal results may also impact national politics indirectly.

That is the reason why both Congress and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) are taking UP municipal elections so seriously. Both are serious contenders in Gujarat elections and 2019 parliamentary polls. BJP has come up with a full manifesto called sankalp-patr promising world class facilities to citizens. Chief Minister Yogi is himself spearheading the municipal campaign with all his ministers in the field and even some central ministers are also being roped in the campaign. The party has brought in all the four components – ideology, programmes, leadership and campaign management – in the municipal polls.

On Congress side, all its star campaigners are campaigning for local candidates. That has made these campaigns very elaborate and expensive and the expenditure ceiling put by State Election Commission looks absolutely bogus.

Both BJP and Congress pin their hopes on the outcome of UP municipal poll results in their favour as both are fighting on party symbols. BJP thinks that a good performance in UP would positively impact its winning chances in Gujarat assembly polls while Congress too thinks the same way and feels that its better performance in UP coupled with Rahul’s elevation as president of the party just before polling in Gujarat could provide the party much needed booster as Congress is already upbeat in view of its better performance in local body elections in rural Gujarat, support of a section of patidaars and electors’ fatigue with BJP governments in the state.

To everyone’s surprise, even Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and Samajwadi Party (SP) are fighting municipal polls on party symbols – something that they had not done during the past 22 years. Even they want to assess their grassroots situation in wake of their poor performance in the assembly polls earlier this year in which both fared badly; SP got 47 out of 403 seats while BSP bagged just 19 seats. A better outcome in municipal polls may bolster them in their preparations for Lok Sabha polls and may also encourage them towards some novel political strategy to browbeat BJP. Both are desperate to find their lost ground.

The impact of third-tier municipal or local elections on second-tier state polls and first-tier parliamentary elections is a recent phenomenon. When the Constitution was amended 74th time in 1992 giving constitutional status to urban local bodies (ULBs), elections had been held more or less regularly with marginal delays here and there. It is, however, for the first time that such a huge enthusiasm is being witnessed in UP in ULB polls.

The trend dates back to 8 November 2016 when Modi government took the decision to demonetise Rs 1,000 and Rs 500 currency notes. There was uproar in the media against that and the opposition parties thought that Modi government had got a ‘hit-wicket’. But, ULB elections were held in several places like Orissa, Maharashtra, Gujarat, Delhi, Chandigarh etc giving a massive thumps-up to BJP. That signified approval of Modi government’s national policy decision by the local population in several places. These outcomes impacted UP assembly polls very positively for BJP, which won hands down, getting 325 out of 403 seats. Perhaps that psychology persists among the parties and they want to reap political benefits out of ULB’s results.

It would be good for the Indian democracy if the local is integrated with the provincial and the national. After all, target of development is the same – the people at grassroots. This integrating tendency would extricate present compartmentalised nature of development and give it holistic and homogeneous character that will save money, manpower and time.

But the rationale of ULB gets defeated because it has no administrative apparatus of its own and depends heavily on state machinery that works under bureaucracy. What can a mayor or president of Nagar Palika Parishad do when she/he has no power of directly ordering state officials?

China could be a good model to emulate where one walks into mayor’s chamber and all the requirements of the entrepreneur or citizen’s grievances get done on his table within no time. In our country, entrepreneurs get stuck in a cobweb of institutions while the mayor or president of ULB watches helplessly. If the country has to move forward and move fast, then not only should we attempt integration of the local with national but also simultaneously provide administrative autonomy to even the lowest ULBs or even village panchayats. Only then the positive impact of integration would be felt.

A K Verma is Director, Centre for the Study of Society and Politics, Kanpur.

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