Gorakhpur, Phulpur results: Alarm bells for BJP, but Congress too loses leverage to push for Rahul Gandhi as prime minister

A few days ago, Sonia Gandhi predicted the Opposition will not let the BJP return to power in 2019. Trends from Gorakhpur, Phulpur and Araria, where the SP and RJD are leading, suggest the Congress matriarch now has a workable model to ensure her prophesy comes true. She needs to remember what the Samajwadi Party chief Akhilesh Yadav said during the campaign: “We will stand by those who can defeat the BJP.”

If the BJP loses in Gorakhpur and Phulpur, it would be a clear message that a combined Opposition can out up a good fight against Narendra Modi in the next election. And the Congress will have to set aside its ego, forget the dream of seeing Rahul Gandhi as the next Prime Minister of India and work as a facilitator of a united Opposition.

Samajwadi Party workers in a festive mood in Allahabad. Courtesy: Twitter/@SamajwadiParty

Samajwadi Party workers in a festive mood in Allahabad. Courtesy: Twitter/@SamajwadiParty

The predicted loss in Uttar Pradesh, or even a close contest in the backyards of the two heavy hitters of the BJP — Yogi Adityanath and Keshav Prasad Maurya — can be a game changing event in Indian politics if the BSP and SP carry this forward to 2019. Just a year after a resounding win, if the BJP loses in two seats vacated by the chief minister and his deputy, it suggests a massive churning on the ground with. The SP-BSP had to overcome a deficit of more than 15 percent votes in both these constituencies compared to 2014. The BJP had won these seats by margins exceeding three lakh votes. In Gorakhpur, the SP had never won an election but this year the myth of the Mutt has gone phut. If the BJP is losing now, the Modi magic, the Adityanath charisma, the Amit Shah model of election management, in essence everything the BJP stands for, will be under challenge.

Trends from Bihar and Uttar Pradesh need to be seen in the right context. They come a few months after the Congress gave the BJP a tough fight in Gujarat and won bypolls in Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh suggesting that the BJP’s hold over the Indian voter in north India is loosening.

On paper, the BSP-SP alliance was always a winner. Even in 2014, if the two had contested together, they could have won 40 seats, pushing the BJP to less than half of its current tally in Uttar Pradesh. This electoral math has been proven effective on the ground in the bypolls. It has proven that if their workers have the right chemistry, their core vote can be transferred to each other and the BJP can be defeated.

The lesson for the Congress is this: If it wants a combined Opposition, it has to be part of it. In Uttar Pradesh, the Congress made the mistake of putting up its candidates, turning the contest triangular. But now that the BSP-SP has proved that it can take on the BJP, the Congress must remember that a Congress-SP-BSP alliance could have had a healthy showing even in 2014, at the height of the Modi wave. How effective this alliance could be in a non-wave election is something the Congress needs to consider seriously. If that happens, the BJP could be facing a big deficit in Uttar Pradesh that might be hard to fill elsewhere.

The template for the Congress is clear: Work in states where it is the main Opposition, such as Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Gujarat and Maharashtra. In rest of the country, play a supporting role, even restrict itself to a facilitator that brings together everyone capable of beating the BJP.

For the BJP, the possible loss in Gorakhpur and Phulpur would be a huge embarrassment and a loud call for action. Adityanath has been projected as a star campaigner in states like Karnataka and Gujarat. After losing in his own backyard, he would find it difficult to carry the hubris of the next big thing in Indian politics.

This means, the BJP would now have to depend only on Modi to win the battle of 2019. He will have to contend with a combined Opposition, lack of supporting cast from within the BJP and think of new slogans for an election that is likely to be fought on caste lines and regional dynamics. His tirade against corruption is unlikely to echo because trends from Araria seem to suggest that they are willing to back even a party whose leader has been jailed for graft.

The 2019 election is by no means a done deal for the BJP. Far from it. If the Congress manages to retain Karnataka and performs well in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh, it would bring politics back to its pre-Modi era where every outcome is possible.

Sonia Gandhi could be proven right. But, she would have to absorb the message from Gorakhpur and Phulpur. That the Opposition can be a force to reckon with only if it stays together, and that there’s no place for her son at the top of that grouping.

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Updated Date: Mar 14, 2018 14:26:04 IST

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