UP by-poll results is a slap in the face of BJP's Hindutva politics
The Opposition's victory also throws a major challenge for all parties, which need to now ensure its continuance in 2019.
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The defeat of Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the two by-elections — Kairana Lok Sabha and Noorpur Vidhan Sabha — in Uttar Pradesh rings alarm bells for the party leadership that was clearly taking the Opposition unity for granted.
That the diverse Opposition parties stood steadfast to give BJP a run for its money is no mean achievement. It also shows the path for the crucial 2019 Lok Sabha election, when the road to New Delhi would once again be routed via UP that will determine the political destiny of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
This was the third major jolt in succession for the ruling party, which suffered two similar humiliating reverses barely two months back. While one was the party's debacle in Phulpur Lok Sabha constituency, held by deputy chief minister Keshav Prasad Maurya, the other was its rout in chief minister Yogi Adityanath's own bastion, Gorakhpur — a Lok Sabha seat, he had held for five consecutive terms.
Significantly, as against these two parliamentary constituencies in the eastern corner of the state, Kairana and Noorpur stood in the diametrically opposite west UP. And that also indicates how the clout of the party, which had bagged as many as 73 out of the 80 Lok Sabha seats in 2014 and 325 out of 403 Vidhan Sabha seats in 2017, was falling apart.
What seems to have come as the biggest blow to the saffron brigade was the fact that the people had rejected BJP's politics of hatred in two physically diverse corners of the sprawling state.
Just as the successive defeats in these major by-polls raises serious question marks on the saffron-clad chief minister's capabilities as master in communal polarisation, the loss also raises doubts over the old mesmerising skills of PM Modi. After all, besides pushing the party's entire strength to the two constituencies, Modi had pumped in his own energies just a day before the poll too, when he smartly circumvented the election rules and addressed a public rally on the periphery of the constituency on the pretext of inaugurating an expressway.
Camping in the region for a couple of days, Yogi Adityanath left no stone unturned to create a Hindu-Muslim divide, both in Kairana and Noorpur, where communal polarisation had in the past helped BJP reap a political dividend. Obviously, as part of that strategy, well before the by-election, BJP tried to make a huge communal issue out of the presence of Mohammad Ali Jinnah's portrait in Aligarh Muslim University (AMU), where the portrait had been hanging since 1938. Aligarh's proximity to the two constituencies was expected to go a long way in assisting the BJP to serve its ulterior objectives.
The united Opposition, comprising Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD), Samajwadi Party (SP), Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and the Congress, managed to counter it with their campaign on non-payment of dues to sugarcane farmers, who dominate the population of west UP.
The contest turned into "Jinnah versus Ganna", and the strength of the cane farmers, whose dues to the tune of Rs 12,000 crore were yet to be cleared, finally managed to beat the "Jinnah" campaign. A jubilant RLD general secretary and party chief Ajit Singh's son, Jayant Chaudhary, went on record to say, "It is a victory of 'ganna' over Jinnah'." He said, "People of this region have made it loud and clear that livelihood was more important for them than whipping up communal passions."
BJP's defeat is also a slap in the face of the party leadership that had played every possible stunt to arouse communal passions by raising the bogey of "love jihad" and "cow slaughter", for which they went about openly accusing Muslims.
Adityanath did not hesitate to create a communal divide by raking up the issue of "Hindu exodus" from Kairana. He thought that by spreading the canard that Muslims were driving out Hindus from Kairana, he would be able to consolidate the Hindu vote in favour of the BJP. However, with the lies exposed, the divisive card failed miserably and now, the loss of face may not be all that easy to compensate for.
After all, this hits him where it hurts the most — his image as a Hindutva icon — that had in all these years come in handy for his rise from the head of a temple trust to the head of the government in India's most populous state.
Simultaneously, the Opposition's victory also throws a major challenge for all parties, which need to now ensure its continuance in 2019. And for that, the diverse political partners will have to make many compromises and iron out their differences in the larger interest of combating their common political adversary — Narendra Modi. How that works would also be equally interesting to watch.