Lucknow: The ruling BJP today forged ahead of its rivals, leading on 14 of the 16 mayoral seats in Uttar Pradesh where the civic bodies polls were held in three phases.
In the remaining two places, the BSP was leading, according to early trends of counting for all 652 urban local bodies that began at 8 am.
BJP candidates were leading in seats including Lucknow, Allahabad, Aligarh, Varanasi, Ghaziabad, Gorakhpur, Faizabad and Moradabad municipal corporations while the BSP was ahead in Jhansi and Agra municipal corporations.
The Congress got its biggest electoral jolt after the BJP won the Amethi Nagar Panchayat by over a 1,000 votes.
Amethi is Congress Vice-President Rahul Gandhi’s Lok Sabha constituency, and has long been a bastion of the Gandhi family.
The BJP’s Chandrama Devi won the Amethi Nagar Panchayat by 1035 votes.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi took to Twitter to congratulate Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath and thank the people of the state.
"Development has triumphed once again in the country. Thank people of the state for this grand victory. Many congratulations to Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath and all party workers. This win motivates us to work even harder for people's betterment," he wrote.
The civic polls are being seen as a referendum of Yogi Adityanath government's performance in the past seven months.
The BJP won 10 out of 12 mayoral seats in 2012.
Deputy Chief Minister Dinesh Sharma said people have shown full faith in the BJP and its ideology and discarded the SP, the BSP and the Congress.
"The SP, the BSP and the Congress contested the polls as each other's relatives. (SP chief) Akhilesh Yadav and (Congress vice president) Rahul Gandhi, who were together during Assembly polls as 'UP ke ladke', have become like the tyre and tube of a cycle and it is punctured," Sharma said.
'Cycle' is the election symbol of the Samajwadi Party. On the Opposition's charges of EVM tampering, Sharma said, "The shortcoming is not in the EVMs but in their minds. They worked for a particular caste and people have discarded them. We are working for all, irrespective of caste, creed and religion and that has been accepted by the people."
"I am going to Gujarat today with a positive message from UP," the deputy CM said.
SP leader and MLC Rajpal Kashyap said it was disheartening to note that the BJP gained in places where EVMs were used. "The SP is closely analysing the results," he said.
These elections are being viewed as a litmus test for the Samajwadi Party (SP), the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and the Congress as well.
The BSP, which has been on the sidelines of politics in the state ever since it lost power to SP in 2012 and lost two successive elections -- 2014 general elections and the 2017 state Assembly elections, contested the urban body polls for the first time on party symbol.
This is being seen as a desperate attempt by BSP supreme Mayawati to stay relevant in the state, which she has ruled four times.
Counting of the ballots polled in three phases on November 22, 26 and 29 was on under tight security cover and CCTV surveillance at 334 centres in district and tehsil headquarters, the state election commission said.
Central paramilitary forces have been deployed around counting centres. Arrangements have also been made for web casting of the counting process.
The final results are expected by this evening. Results will be communicated to the candidates through SMS on their registered mobile numbers.
Official sources said no procession would be allowed during the counting process and following the announcement of the results.
Polling was held for 16 nagar nigams, 198 nagar palika parishads and 438 nagar panchayats with an average turnout of all the three phases estimated at 52.5 per cent of the 3.32 crore voters.
The Adityanath government, soon after assuming office in March, had constituted two municipal corporations of Ayodhya and Vrindavan-Mathura.
The overall percentage recorded an improvement from 46.2 per cent in 2012 to 52.5 per cent this time.
The elections have generated a lot of political heat with the ruling BJP leaving nothing to chance.
Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath heavily campaigned for these elections all over UP.
Aware that the BJP's performance in the polls was being watched closely after its massive sweep of the state in the Assembly polls this year, Adityanath undertook a whirlwind campaign, unprecedented for a chief minister, during civic polls.
Opposition SP, BSP and Congress campaigns were comparatively low-key. Both SP supremo Akhilesh Yadav and BSP chief Mayawati did not campaign for their candidates....