UP By-Election: Gorakhpur loss eye-opener for Yogi Adityanath; SP-BSP combine a brute force for BJP to counter

Since 1989 when Mahant Avaidyanath won Gorakhpur parliamentary seat as Hindu Mahasabha candidate and subsequently as BJP candidate, it was considered to be an impregnable fort of saffron parivar.

After retaining the seat for three-terms, ninth to 11th Lok Sabha Avaidyanath passed on the baton to his successor, a young Yogi Adityanath. In 1998 Yogi entered Parliament for the first time and since then he continued to represent Gorakhpur for five terms.

File image of Uttar Pradesh chief minister Yogi Adityanath. PTI

File image of Uttar Pradesh chief minister Yogi Adityanath. PTI

The irony is when Yogi is at peak of glory and was preparing to celebrate one year in power (on 19 March) as chief minister of Uttar Pradesh, the most populated Indian state he suffered an electoral setback at his home turf, Gorakhpur. Yogi's citadel has been breached by forces who were otherwise never considered as serious competitors.

In fact of the 16 terms of Parliament, the presiding Mahants of Gorakhnath peeth, Digvijaynath, Avaidyanath and Adityanath held Gorakhpur parliamentary seat for 10 terms, Congress held it for four terms and Bharatiya Lok Dal winning it once in 1977 due to the 'Janata wave'. In the past three elections, which Yogi contested from Gorakhpur he always polled over 50 percent votes. In 2014 his victory margin Yogi got 51.80 percent vote and won by a margin of 3.12 lakh, over 1.5 lakh higher than the combined vote of SP-BSP.

The implications of BJP’s loss in Gorakhpur can’t thus be undermined, particularly in view of the damage emerging social and political coalitions can cause.

The wound became even more painful for the BJP as it lost Phulpur also, a seat which was held by Deputy Chief Minister Keshav Prasad Maurya. It couldn’t be worse than this – losing parliamentary seats of the chief minister and deputy chief minister.

In Bihar BJP failed to win Araria and Jehanabad seats in the by-polls. Lalu Prasad Yadav’s RJD was making a comeback in these seats.

If the BJP played an extended saffron Holi on 3 March after the declaration of results in Tripura, Nagaland and Meghalaya then the SP-BSP and RJD got a chance to play their share of belated Holi resplendent with red, blue and green. The only consolation, if any, BJP had was winning the Bhabhua Assembly seat in Bihar.

The signs are ominous for the BJP. Emerging trends should worry BJP leadership, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and party president Amit Shah in particular. Shah had so meticulously built the party’s support base in Uttar Pradesh, winning 71 out of 80 parliamentary seats three years ago and a year ago winning 325 Assembly seats out of a total of 402 seats. Just one year later with Yogi at the helm, all that gain has been wiped out, just because two sworn enemies, SP and BSP chose to forget about their bitter past and join hands to counter BJP’s onward march.

Though it would be wrong to jump to any conclusion on possible outcome of 2019 Lok Sabha election on the basis of few by-poll results in the Hindi heartland states but the spread of adverse results in the by-polls in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, that too coming one after another in about a month-and-half time should surely be ringing alarm bells for the BJP.

There are umpteen examples where by-poll results preceding general state or parliamentary elections did not have a bearing on general elections. Each election is a different election and elections in one constituency and in one state does not impact elections in other states. But at the same time, it would be a novice to assume these elections have no relevance for 2019, at least in terms of strategy, for the incumbent BJP or for the challengers in opposition. Though the outcome of these by-polls elections has too much in store for the Congress leadership to worry about, the party’s rank and file would be buoyed more by the BJP’s loss than by anything less. The liberalists-secularists in all walks of life would get energised and launch an even more vigorous assault on BJP.

During an informal conversation with Firstpost, a BJP strategist admitted that the coming together of Mulayam’s SP and Mayawati’s BSP could act as a template in other states for BJP’s rivals in 2019. If that happens the BJP would have to do a serious review of its strategy. The Bihar template of JD(U)-RJD-Congress coming together to form an anti- Modi, anti-BJP coalition (though it broke with Nitish Kumar dumping RJD-Congress and joining hands with BJP) has now acted as a template for Akhilesh Yadav and Mayawati in Uttar Pradesh.

It’s true that both Mulayam-Akhilesh SP and Mayawati’s BSP were faced with an existential crisis in Uttar Pradesh but being caste-based parties they had retained their caste-based support and their ability to transfer votes to the other partner in case of an alliance.

The BJP strategists now have a huge task cut out for them, re-invent Modi’s positioning in view of the emerging social and political coalitions.

The polling percentage in Gorakhpur and Phulpur, as also the fact that urban voters (read BJP supporters) in both these constituencies were even more apathetic to come out and vote should be another matter of concern.

The message from voters in Uttar Pradesh is loud and clear, Yogi should stop donning the role of star campaigner for the BJP in other states. He should instead focus on governance in his state.

Published Date: Mar 14, 2018 18:59 PM | Updated Date: Mar 14, 2018 18:59 PM

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