Lucknow: The BJP has suffered its most humiliating defeat since the 2014 Lok Sabha election. Two plum seats of Gorakhpur and Phulpur – held by Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister and his Deputy — have been wrested by the SP-BSP combine.
While BJP may take comfort in the fact that Phulpur was never a BJP seat in the previous elections, the loss of Gorakhpur is a rude jolt. The saffron-robed Yogi, who has been making public pronouncements about being a proud Hindu, represented Gorakhpur in Lok Sabha for five terms, even when BJP was not in power in UP. Known popularly as ‘Maharaj Ji’ he heads the much-revered Gorakhnath Peeth. He is known for helping people in times of crisis, but the people of Gorakhpur completely let him down in his first major political test since he took over as Chief Minister last year.
The two losses have come as a major boost to recent efforts at forging opposition unity in Uttar Pradesh. The two bitter political rivals, SP and Bahujan Samaj Party, had come together for these two by-elections as a tentative experiment, and its success has opened the doors to the possibility of the two parties forming a front to take on the BJP in 2019. The results, incidentally, have taken the BJP’s agenda of having a ‘Congress-mukt Bharat’ a step ahead in an ironic twist – the grand old party has been reduced to a straggler in both places with a pathetic showing by its candidates. The BJP is now acknowledging that it did not take the coming together of SP and BSP too seriously, and paid the price for it.
The jubilation in SP and BSP camps indicates that if there is no major hiccup in the two parties over the leadership issue in the coming months, the fielding of joint SP-BSP candidates in all 80 UP Lok Sabha seats is a distinct possibility.
The two parties have seriously understood that the caste groups represented by them – large number of backward castes and Dalits – have the potential to pose a serious challenge to the BJP. It will require great efforts on the part of PM Narendra Modi and BJP president Amit Shah to come up with a viable strategy to meet this challenge. Mere talk of inclusive development, booth management, international prestige and a robust economy may not be enough. Only earlier this month BJP had scored an unprecedented victory in Tripura and managed to foist NDA governments in Meghalaya and Nagaland, indicating its pan-India sway. Smug in their triumph, party strategists did not realise that the UP bypolls would be a game-changer. It is apparent that there is a trust deficit in a party that was given a sweeping mandate a year ago.
Reports from Gorakhpur suggest that Yogi’s magic too has begun to wane. At the ground level, resentment over the deaths of several children in the Gorakhpur medical college last year, the delay in setting-up the All India Institute of Medical Sciences and failure to reopen the defunct fertiliser plant in the city have largely contributed to their disenchantment with the BJP government.
Another reason is the party’s failure to grapple with caste equations. Gorakhpur has a history of Brahmin and non-Brahmin confrontation; and in this election, too, ultimately it could have turned into a Brahmin versus others contest. The BJP had put up a Brahmin, Upendra Shukla – Yogi was reportedly not too happy with the choice – while SP had fielded a backward, Praveen Nishad. The latter won despite being seen as an outsider.
As for Phulpur, it was never a BJP bastion and in all elections (except 2014) it has been won either by the Congress, erstwhile Janata Dal, Samajwadi Party and once by BSP. It is adjacent to Allahabad and is dominated by backward castes and Dalits. Both BJP and SP had put up Patel candidates — while BJP’s Kaushalendra Patel lost, SP’s Nagendra Patel won, underlining the BJP’s disconnect with the local political environment.
As far as Yogi’s governance is concerned, allegations of corruption have started emerging in various ministries and departments. Most BJP legislators, MPs, ministers and party functionaries are perceived as being too arrogant. It is alleged that some top party leaders have become power centres and wield more importance than many ministers.
The SP, incidentally, is loudly hailing the victory as a sign of the understanding between Akhilesh Yadav and Mayawati – the slogans of ‘Bua bhateeja zindabad’ (referring to Mayawati and Akhilesh) are being raised with great fanfare. An SP leader also jokingly said that Akhilesh had warned Yogi not to visit Noida but he did not pay any heed — and suffered. The common superstition in UP is that any chief minister who visits Noida while in office either loses his job or the next election. Even Akhilesh has admitted that he subscribes to this belief.