White Elephant, Punctured Bike: How Uttar Pradesh voters jolted the Gathbandhan and the Congress hard

Not only does the gathbandhan stand decimated in Uttar Pradesh, but the Congress has also suffered its worst defeat here. That's despite the starry addition of Priyanka Gandhi.

 |  6-minute read |   24-05-2019
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The Modi ‘tsunami’ has clearly conquered India, but it was in the country’s most populous state — Uttar Pradesh — where it has taken the biggest casualty. If it was UP with 80 Lok Sabha seats, where the opposition was hoping to hit Prime Minister Narendra Modi really hard, just the reverse has happened.

Not only does the much-hyped ‘gathbandhan’ between the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), the Samajwadi Party (SP) and the Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD) stand decimated, but even the Congress suffered its worst defeat here.

Congress president Rahul Gandhi is in for the most humiliating defeat in the traditional family bastion of Amethi, where actor-turned-politician Smriti Irani was out to defeat him in a straight contest. Surely the Congress leadership had not imagined this even in their wildest dreams, even though Rahul had chosen to contest simultaneously from Wayanad in Kerala, where he set an all-time record of a margin of more than seven lakh votes.

main_smriti-irani-fi_052319075754.jpgSmriti, the giant slayer: Smriti Irani has emerged as the biggest victor in this election, defeating Rahul Gandhi in Amethi. (Photo: PTI)

Smriti Irani, who had lost the 2014 election to Rahul in Amethi, has emerged as the biggest victor in this election and is therefore expected to bag a key position in the new Modi cabinet.

This election has also demolished all political calculations as the SP-BSP-RLD ‘gathbandhan’ just failed to click in the face of a Modi superwave that went unnoticed until several exit polls predicted a BJP sweep — taking the party to a 60-plus tally in the state. Ironically, political analysts were ready to give the ‘gathbandhan’ a tally of that kind, as soon as SP president Akhilesh Yadav decided to shake hands with BSP supremo Mayawati.

They were hopeful of the ‘gathbandhan’ success because it had worked magically in winning four by-elections in UP in 2018.

However, when it came to facing the 2019 Lok Sabha poll, the ‘gathbandhan’ arithmetic failed to work. The common feeling is that the inter-transfer of the vote between the SP and the BSP was not smooth.

It did work in a few places — while it failed in most places. And that was not something that was unanticipated.

Right from the beginning, it was felt that the transfer of votes — particularly from SP to BSP — would not be without hiccups. But as the election went by, it was found that in many places, even the BSP vote did not easily transfer to SP. In Lucknow itself, where the ‘gathbandhan’ nominee belonged to the SP, many BSP voters did not vote as there was no “elephant” sign (BSP symbol) on the EVM. “I voted for Congress as there was no BSP symbol on the EVM, and I did not want to vote for the cycle,” 35- year-old Sushil Kumar, who is a car driver, told this scribe on the day of polling.

main_bsp-sp-deoband-_052319074809.jpgBecause elephants can't ride bikes? The Gathbandhan found its voters didn't transfer their votes. (Photo: PTI)

Similar reports were received from many parts of UP, where the ‘gathbandhan’ put up joint candidates. While the BSP fielded 38 candidates in the fray, the SP was contesting on 37 seats. Three seats were allocated to the RLD, while two seats of Rae Bareli and Amethi were spared for the Congress, which was not part of the ‘gathbandhan’. Rae Bareli remains the traditional seat of the Gandhi family and Sonia Gandhi is the sitting incumbent — while Amethi, of course, was Rahul Gandhi’s seat.

Apart from the ‘gathbandhan’, what also seems to have failed miserably is the role of Priyanka Gandhi, who was ushered in rather late in the day as a support for her brother Rahul. Evidently, it was a half-hearted effort.

It was as late as on January 23, 2019 that the announcement was made about her appointment as general secretary of the party for East UP. She came down to Lucknow only after about two weeks of being appointed. Shortly thereafter, she returned to Delhi to re-appear after a long gap in March.

Meanwhile, what happened on February 14 watered down all the impact that Priyanka’s arrival seemed to be making on the voter.

In fact, Priyanka was scheduled to address a press conference on the same evening, but soon after the news of the Pulwama attack broke out, she preferred to simply offer condolences for the 40 jawans killed in the suicide bomb attack on the CRPF convoy carrying them. 

main_priyanka-gandhi_052319075032.jpgUnready, Unsteady? Priyanka Gandhi's half-hearted and half-baked campaign in Uttar Pradesh barely had any impact. (Photo: PTI)

Surprisingly, she chose to just keep herself away from any campaigning for nearly a month. After that, she re-appeared only very close to the election. She visited a few places and addressed fewer rallies. Instead, she held road-shows — which did not make much impact.

She was criticised for coming in and out of UP as a “political tourist”, not as a serious campaigner, even as a perception had been built that she would prove to be some kind of a “Brahmastra” (the ultimate weapon).

No one knows whether this half-hearted and half-baked campaign by Priyanka was on purpose or due to circumstance. Some believe that the Pulwama attack, followed by the Indian army’s surgical strike on Balakot, led her to believe that the poll narrative had changed. The main issues, on which she had planned her attack on Modi, were taken over by the new narrative of “national security” — on account of the threat from Pakistan.

At the end of the day, it looks pretty evident that the over-riding factor above everything else was Narendra Modi — who successfully carved his image as a macho prime minister who could go to any length to defend the nation from a neighbouring enemy’s threat. What came as a further binding factor was the Hindu nationalism around which BJP president Amit Shah already built a narrative. 

Finally, what came as the last nail in the coffin of the ‘gathbandhan’ was Hindu nationalism combined with national security. And Modi, who turned the election into a virtual presidential form, brought down the bastion of Rahul Gandhi — who proved no match to the charisma, capability, skills and histrionics of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Also read: Uttar Pradesh poll results 2019 live: Rahul Gandhi concedes defeat in Amethi. Smriti Irani emerges as the giant killer

Writer

Sharat Pradhan Sharat Pradhan @sharatpradhan21

The writer is a senior journalist and political analyst based in Lucknow.

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