All eyes are now set on the outcome of the much-talked about panchayat elections which concluded in India's most populous state on Monday.
With contests taking place for as many as 748,934 seats at different levels of the panchayat, the election was rated as the single largest democratic process in any part of the country, involving nearly 11 crore voters.
About three months back when Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Mayawati announced the government's decision to hold state panchayat elections without political parties, it was pretty evident that something big was cooking on her mind.
Even though panchayat elections were always considered important, never before was so much significance attached to the exercise . When the poll was last held in 2005, no political party gave it that kind of priority as Mayawati seemed to give to it this time.
Her reasons for not allowing it to happen on party lines were surely part of a well-thought strategy. While it would not give any political party a yardstick to assess its hold with the electorate at the grassroots level, it would also afford Mayawati the opportunity to woo bulk of the winners into the Bahujan Samaj Party fold , with a view to establishing a vast network of supporters at the lowest level, particularly in areas where the ruling BSP does not command any following.
Sure enough it would be no difficult task for the ruling party to lure a good number to fall in line, particularly when there were no formal political tags attached to them while contesting the election.
And considering the volume involved, there was bound to be no dearth of elected panchayat functionaries to run for the offer. There will be 631,556 members of gram panchayat, 51,016 gram pradhans, 62,962 members of area panchayat, 2,594 members of zilla panchayat and 806 heads of development blocks.
Sure enough any political party controlling a chunk of these functionaries could make a lot of difference to its fortunes when the state goes to the next assembly poll in 2012. "Of course, it becomes so much easier if you have your own partymen wielding sufficient influence in their own respective localities at the grassroots level," observed a senior functionary in the ruling BSP.
However, the view is not shared by Samajwadi Party state chief Akhilesh Yadav. "I do not think that makes so much of a difference; if you take the example of our party, we had a good number of zilla panchayat members at the time of the last panchayat elections in 2005, but let me tell you, that did not help us win many state assembly seats covering those very panchayats," he pointed out.
But leaders of other parties including the Congress and Bhartiya Janata Party believe that a good hold over panchayats does give a party the desired edge over its rivals in the rural areas. "After all , it does provide you a good base to launch your electoral battle," remarked state Congress spokesman Subodh Srivastava, while BJP spokesman Hriday Narain Dikshit was strongly of the view, "there is no doubt that the support of panchayat members comes in handy during assembly and parliament elections in a big way."
No wonder, it was the potential of these grassroot units that led all opposition parties to, at the very outset, vehemently oppose Mayawati's move to do away with panchayat elections on party lines.
Some of them even went to court, but failed to get any relief. Sure enough, Mayawati has had her way so far and it would hardly be a surprise if she managed to bulldoze her way even further when the state goes to the assembly poll in the next 18 months or so.