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Dress rehearsal: The curious case of poll frenzy in Lucknow

Rohit Ghosh | Updated on: 13 February 2017, 3:33 IST

The madness

  • UP is holding panchayat polls beginning in September
  • Voters seem uninterested, but political parties are in a frenzy
  • BJP, SP, BSP Congress are all planning extensive campaigns

The method

  • Parties see these polls as a rehearsal for the 2017 assembly election
  • They can gauge the voters\' mood and plan 2017 campaigns accordingly
  • Voters though are more worried about paucity of rains

Lucknow is uncharacteristically free of political chatter these days. You don't hear political conversations at tea stalls or in buses. And leaders don't smile down from giant hoardings.

After all, the general election, and its feverish analysis, was done and dusted with a year ago and the assembly polls are 18 months away.

But then, you come across offices of political parties and it seems the state in full election mode. For them, it indeed is.

The state is holding panchayat polls over several rounds between September 9 and December 15.

The polls are apolitical in that political parties are not allowed to put up candidates, at least not officially. Yet, all parties are keen to put up a good show.

The polls, after all, have been declared as the final dress rehearsal for the 2017 assembly election. Nearly 120 million people or 85% of the state's total voters are likely to exercise their franchise in these polls.

Laying the ground

The BJP is leading the march. Its headquarters on Vidhan Sabha Marg in downtown Lucknow is in a festive mood, drenched in saffron flags and buntings.

It's crowded, too, by a swarm of white-clad party leaders and workers huddled in the front yard that has been canopied against the unusual August heat.

They have come from across Uttar Pradesh to receive training in the ways of electioneering and take home polling material like flags and banners.

Nearly 120 million people or 85% of the UP's voters will vote in the panchayat polls

"The panchayat election will be held across the state and it will tell us about the mood of the voters," said BJP's state president Luxmi Kant Bajpai told Catch.

"The panchayat and assembly polls are separated by 14 months and the result of the first will have a bearing on the second."

The party is projecting the contest as one between the achievements of Prime Minister Narendra Modi's one year in office and Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav's three and half years.

BJP chief Amit Shah, visiting Kanpur to review the party's membership drive last month, told the workers, "Victory in the panchayat polls will pave the way for the BJP's victory in the assembly election in 2017."

Later, he told MPs from the state, "Ensure the party's victory in the panchayat election to win the confidence of the prime minister."

For the second act

If the BJP was the first party to declare it will participate in the panchayat elections, the ruling Samajwadi Party wasn't too far behind.

Indeed, party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav had told his supporters as far back as February this year to shun complacency and brace up for the panchayat polls.

The party has launched a Bicycle Yatra to propagate the government's schemes and achievements in every village and town across the state. It's effectively a poll campaign on full blast.

The BSP, which lost not only the 2012 assembly polls but last year's general election as well, is aiming to make a comeback through an emphatic win in the panchayat polls.

In the past, the BSP always avoided getting actively involved in panchayat or municipal polls. But now with its back to the wall, party chief Mayawati has decided to throw caution to the wind.

The Congress, whose electoral fortunes have lurched between terrible and tragic for a while now, is also eager to make a mark.

"Our members have fanned out in the state to connect with the voters. We are hopeful that our performance will be good and it will have a positive effect on the assembly election," said state Congress president Nirmal Khatri.

Our main concern now is the paucity of rain, say voters. 'No rain means we have a difficult life ahead'

However, despite all this frenzy within the political parties, the voters don't seem to have caught the election bug yet.

In the historic district of Kakori in Lucknow, people say they will vote, but right now, election is the last thing on their minds.

Their primary concern is the paucity of monsoon rains. "No rain means that we have a difficult life ahead of us," explained Khood Chand, a resident.

First published: 6 August 2015, 7:14 IST