Samajwadi Party workers celebrate their party success during counting for by-election in Phulpur (Allahabad) Lok Sabha seat outside a counting center in Allahabad on March 14, 2018. 
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi's party on March 14 suffered a symbolic setback after his party lost key parliamentary bypolls in the bellwether Uttar Pradesh state to an unwieldy alliance of regional parties. / AFP PHOTO / SANJAY KANOJIA
Samajwadi Party workers celebrate their party success during counting for by-election in Phulpur (Allahabad) Lok Sabha seat outside a counting center in Allahabad on March 14, 2018. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi's party on March 14 suffered a symbolic setback after his party lost key parliamentary bypolls in the bellwether Uttar Pradesh state to an unwieldy alliance of regional parties. / AFP PHOTO / SANJAY KANOJIA

New Delhi:  Uttar Pradesh on Wednesday was witness to political tremors, triggered by the Lok Sabha by-election results. First and foremost, the twin loss in seats that were held by Chief Minister Yogi and his deputy chief minister have underscored the formidable strength of the Samajwadi Party-Bahujan Samaj Party combine in a state that sends 80 members to the House.

Add to this the strength of Congress, if a grand alliance materialises, and there is enough reason for BJP to feel rattled. The results clearly show that Mayawati’s BSP has a transferable vote that other parties may lack. The division of opposition votes that helped BJP in the past may not happen in 2019. This is apparent from the way opposition parties are proceeding to strike a grand alliance, keeping aside their differences in the states.

Congress President Rahul Gandhi was least upset over party candidates losing their security deposits in the two by-elections.  Rather, he tweeted that “the results clearly show voters’ anger pent-up against BJP, so much so that they will vote for any anti-BJP candidate whose winning chances are the highest.”

He added that the Congress is keen to rejuvenate the party in UP “but that cannot happen overnight.” Sonia Gandhi’s dinner on Tuesday night was enough indication of a broad anti-BJP coalition taking shape and the results now — both in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar — provide a powerful rationale for achieving this objective. Congress leaders also argued that Phulpur and Gorakhpur have given a concrete answer to the vital question of how to stop the Narendra Modi juggernaut.

Both Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath and his deputy Keshav Prasad Maurya had won their seats, Gorakhpur and Phulpur, by over three lakh votes in 2014. Yogi had won Gorakhpur for three consecutive terms and the idea of BJP losing that seat was beyond comprehension.

In fact, the Yogi government was preparing to celebrate completion of its one year in power when the voters delivered this rude shock. Arguing that the central theme of the results was disenchantment with the BJP, Congress leaders said this would automatically alter the national political dynamics and empower the demoralised opposition forces. They pointed out that the Congress would naturally be the main beneficiary being the sole national alternative to the BJP.

As regards the Congress proving the worst loser, political pundits said assessing the impact of these outcomes in terms of the number of votes polled by the Congress was naïve as the larger message is the success of the experiment of anti-BJP coalition and the psychological boost to the Opposition.

As a top Congress leader underlined, “At Sonia Gandhi’s dinner, the collective prayer was for the victory of the Samajwadi candidate, and not for the Congress nominee.” Insisting that Sonia and Rahul Gandhi were the main architects of a broader anti-BJP coalition, the party leader said, “Don’t presume the Congress will be left out in the lurch in the broad alliance. It is for BJP to look at the result with shock and dismay, while we look at it with great hope.”

When BSP decided to back the SP candidates and put its cadres at work for winning elections, Congress did not pull out its candidates or follow suit to rally behind the SP candidates. There was no tactical mistake in fighting the two elections alone. Congress general secretary Ghulam Nabi Azad had discussed the possibility of fielding joint candidates with SP chief Akhilesh Yadav and BSP’s Satish Misra. While BSP said it was not interested in contesting the bye-elections, Congress and SP felt contesting separately was a better option. While both parties were keen to charge up their workers through this battle, there was also a perception that Congress could harm BJP by cutting into upper caste votes.

A party leader from Uttar Pradesh said the outcome of the results was obvious from the day Mayawati declared her support to SP candidates as anybody wanting to defeat BJP knew that the SP-BSP alliance is the best bet. The Congress did not pull out when Mayawati declared support in the middle of electioneering when the campaign was in full swing, he said. Other leaders from the state said BJP must be in a state of panic as losing the seats held by its CM and deputy CM is  not an ordinary development but a political upheaval and a precursor to BJP being wiped out from the Uttar Pradesh map in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections.

They refused to accept rejection of the Congress in the by-elections, asserting that it has given a psychological boost to the Congress that people are fed-up with Modi’s bluffs and are looking for alternatives. Who else could be the alternative to the BJP in Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh except the Congress, they asked.

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