Why BJP's immediate challenge is to stop Opposition grand alliance
The Uttar Pradesh by-election results should also be seen as a reflection of major discontent prevailing on the ground.
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A week is a long time in politics, to quote former British prime minister Harold Wilson. The euphoria over BJP’s successful march into India’s northeastern states had barely dissipated when the results of a couple of by-elections in Uttar Pradesh were declared on March 14. The by-election results in Uttar Pradesh has thrown up a huge challenge for the Hindu nationalist party, which has been coasting from one election victory to the other, of late.
In what could potentially become a template for Opposition parties across the country to emulate, the primary Opposition parties came together at the last minute to wrest crucial Lok Sabha seats from the ruling party.
That BJP lost both Gorakhpur and Phulpur, vacated by incumbent chief minister Yogi Adityanath and his deputy Keshav Prasad Maurya respectively, within a year of sweeping the Assembly elections portends a major churning in India’s most populous state. Uttar Pradesh is also crucial in determining the eventual winner of the general elections just a year away.
It is unusual for a party to lose crucial elections in what is considered the "honeymoon period" for any government. More so, after winning as convincingly as the BJP did in 2017. Apart from the numerical strength of the Opposition, this should also be seen as a reflection of major discontent prevailing on the ground.
If the BJP could maintain a 50 per cent-plus vote share as they did in both these seats in 2014, even a coming together of everyone else would not have mattered. But 2014 verdict was also a reflection of the Modi wave prevailing in north India.
In 2014, the BJP won 42 per cent to ensure a near-sweep against a fragmented Opposition. The BJP ended up with 71 of the 80 seats while its ally Apna Dal won another couple of seats to take their tally to 73.
That was almost 10 per cent more than the votes the BJP polled at the height of the Ramjanmabhoomi movement. It was also a result of social engineering in eastern UP where it accommodated splinter groups of the Bahujan Samaj Party, including the Om Prakash Rajbhar-led Suheldev Bhartiya Samaj Party and the Sonelal Patel-founded Apna Dal. While the BSP was floated in 1984 by Kanshi Ram to unite the "Bahujans" (Sheduled Castes, Sheduled Tribes and OBCs), it gradually attained a Dalit character marginalising other backward communities, including the Nishads, Rajbhars and Kurmis after Mayawati gained control of the party.
In the 2017 Assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh, apart from the BJP, the BSP and the SP-Congress alliance, there was a little known “Mahagadbandhan” mainly in contention in eastern Uttar Pradesh comprising the Nishad Party, Peace Party, Apna Dal faction led by Krishna Patel and Jan Adhikar Manch floated by Babu Khushwaha.
These OBC parties massively cut into the votes of the Opposition making the BJP’s win easier in much of eastern UP. Uttar Pradesh has a backward caste population of 39 per cent and only 9 pe rcent of them are the Yadavs (who vote en bloc for the Samajwadi Party). Even the Peace Party, that won four seats in 2012, is backed by backward (Pasmanda) Muslims.
Akhilesh Yadav seems to have learnt his lesson after burning his fingers with an unwieldy alliance with the Congress in 2017. His correct analysis of the 2017 results led him to offer the Samajwadi Party ticket to Nishad Party founder Sanjay Nishad’s son Praveen Kumar Nishad in Gorakhpur.
The sizeable population of Nishads in the constituency was also factored in. Even in 2014, both SP and BSP had fielded Nishads against Adityanath. With BSP’s convention of not contesting by-polls adding to the SP chances, the election decisively swung when Mayawati offered support to the SP candidates and asked her zonal coordinators to work towards ensuring transfer of votes. The BJP was probably caught off guard at this eleventh-hour strategy.
The cadre party that BSP is, votes got easily transferred as it also reflected the general sentiment prevailing among the demoralised cadre.
Twenty five years after Mulayam Singh Yadav and Kanshi Ram stitched together an SP-BSP alliance in 1993 to halt the BJP juggernaut shortly after the demolition of the Babri Masjid, history was repeated once again on March 14. It is another matter whether the SP and the BSP can sustain this to try and stop the BJP from coming back to power in 2019.
It’s definitely possible if they emulate the Bihar model in 2015, that propelled the JDU-RJD-Congress alliance to a win. This is also an alliance that Kanshi Ram would originally have envisaged when he founded a party for "Bahujans". The Congress has emerged as the biggest loser in the process with both their candidates forfeiting their deposits. The Congress has no base left in the state and has become irrelevant beyond their pocket boroughs. It was telling that Akhilesh Yadav thanked the NCP, RLD and even the Communists, apart from Mayawati at the press conference on March 14.
It’s time the Congress saw the bigger picture and how they jettisoned the chances of DMK in Tamil Nadu and to some extent the SP in Uttar Pradesh by cornering a larger share of seats than they commanded. Statistics bear me out when I say that the DMK had a better strike rate than the AIADMK in the 2016 Assembly elections in Tamil Nadu.
Nothing could have gone worse for Yogi Adityanath with his government’s first anniversary just days away. His ability as a vote-catcher and administrator will both be disputed after this humiliation.
The BJP-RSS dynamic in the aftermath of this result would also be interesting as Adityanath owes his position to the RSS. Only a week ago, Suresh (Bhaiyyaji) Joshi was renominated as the sarkaryawah (general secretary) denying another opportunity to the Modi-backed sah-sarkaryawah Dattatreya Hosabale to assume the executive position in the RSS.
In any case, Amit Shah cannot be underestimated, and the BJP should come up with a strategy to counter the formation of a grand alliance against it.
From government investigative agencies to falling back on the ultimate card of "divide and rule (polarisation)" devised by the British, interesting days are ahead for Uttar Pradesh as well as the nation.