The ruling BJP on Wednesday rejected opposition claims that it had received a setback in the Uttar Pradesh panchayat polls and called itself the “overall winner”, as the counting of ballot papers in the mammoth exercise came to an end.

The election for over 8.69 lakh posts in the three-tier panchayat system, from the village to the district level, was being seen as a curtain-raiser to the 2022 state Assembly polls.

The panchayat elections were not fought on party symbols, but rival parties had indicated their preferences and now claim that they have done well in the polls.

Polling took place on April 15, 19, 26 and 29, in the middle of the current surge in coronavirus cases. Counting of the ballot papers had begun Sunday.

Samajwadi Party spokesperson Anurag Bhaduria claimed his party has bagged over 800 out of about 3,000 in zila panchayat seats, breaching also the BJP bastions of Gorakhpur, Varanasi and Ayodhya.

But the UP BJP chief Swatantradev Singh countered this.

“We fought on more than 3,000 seats for the post of zila panchayat members. The claims of opposition parties that the BJP performed badly in the panchayat election are incorrect. We will remain ahead, and emerge as overall leader in the polls,” he told PTI.

But when asked whether the party’s tally of zila panchayat members will exceed 918, as predicted by the BJP on Monday, he said,”Nothing can be said now, there could be a dip.” On Monday, the ruling party had also claimed that over 45,000 party-supported candidates won the village pradhan posts and over 60,000 were elected to the kshetra (block) panchayats.

The Congress termed the performance of its own candidates as “satisfactory”, and said 270 party-backed candidates won at the zila panchayat level.

In addition, party-backed candidates came second on 571 seats and third on 711 seats at the district level, UP Congress chief Ajay Kumar Lallu claimed in a statement.

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They also registered wins at other tiers in the panchayat polls, he said.

But on Tuesday the party had put out a larger number, 389, for its zila panchayat “winners”.

UP Congress spokesperson Ashok Singh said the BJP has been “virtually decimated” in these elections.

“The winds of change, which started blowing in West Bengal have reached the doorstep of UP and in 2022 UP Assembly elections, the Congress will resurrect itself in the state under the leadership of Priyanka Gandhi Vadra,” he said.

Aam Aadmi Party leader Sanjay Singh tweeted that party-supported candidates won 83 zila panchayat seats. The AAP said people in rural UP voted for the “Delhi model” of governance.