The BJP had a setback in the local body elections in Ayodhya and Mathura -- seen as a grassroot-level feedback ahead of next year's assembly elections when the Yogi Adityanath government will seek a second term. In Gorakhpur, the home turf of the Chief Minster, it went neck and neck with the Samajwadi Party. Results for most of the other districts -- including Prayagraj and Varanasi -- have not come so far.
Out of 40 seats in Ayodhya, the BJP got only six. The top party there was the Samajwadi Party led by former Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav, which cornered 24 seats. Mayawati's Bahujan Samaj Party got five seats.
In Mathura, the BJP got only eight of the 33 seats. The party that had the maximum number of seats, 13, was Mayawati's BSP. Ajit Singh's Rashtriya Lok Dal and the Samajwadi Party got one seat each.
Of the 68 seats in Gorakhpur, the BJP and Samajwadi Party both won 20 seats each, the Independents won 23. AAP, Congress and the Nishad Party won one seat each and the BP two seats. Though panchayat elections are not contested on party symbols, the candidates are backed by various political parties.
"This is a victory for Samajwadi Party's policies and ideologies," said Pawan Pandey, a former minister of the Samajwadi Party, adding that the party has not only won 24 out of 40 seats in Ayodhya. but was ahead in 90 per cent of the districts.
The panchayat polls in the big pilgrim towns – Ayodhya, Mathura, Prayagraj and Varanasi -- are seen as bellwether for next year's assembly elections. The results are expected to raise concern in the BJP, especially following its lacklustre performance in the latest round of assembly elections.
But local leaders of the party appeared unconcerned. Pointing to the Independents who have won, the chief of the local party unit Avdesh Pande said, "There are several independents who have won. They are people with whose ideas match with ours and they are in contact with us. For now, I can tell you that president of the Zila Panchayat will be from our party".
Of the five states where elections were recently concluded, the BJP could only retain Assam. It won Puducherry along with a local ally. But it lost in Tamil Nadu as well as the state it regarded as the biggest prize in this round – Bengal.
The elections were held in the shadow of a ferocious Covid outbreak and the Election Commission pushed ahead with the counting despite an admonition from the Supreme Court that "skies would not fall" if it was put on hold. While Covid is yet to sink its teeth into rural India, the possibility has generated fear, with all-pervading visuals of mass cremation and burials.
"The people have given verdict to Yogi Adityanath over the unavailability of oxygen and beds and the black marketing of medicines and other medical equipment. This is just the semi-final. In 6 months, the BJP will be wiped off from Uttar Pradesh," Mr Pandey said.
The BJP came to power in Uttar Pradesh with a sweeping mandate in 2017 as Prime Minister Narendra Modi's development agenda found resonance in the state three years after the national elections.