UP by-election results confidence booster for 'united Opposition'; BJP must get back to drawing board

Lucknow: Uttar Pradesh finally has its first Muslim member of Parliament. The Rashtriya Lok Dal candidate Tabassum Hasan won comfortably as the grand alliance worked in Kairana. It also reaped dividends in the Noorpur Assembly seat, with the Samajwadi Party coasting to a comfortable win. Most other results of the 28 May bypolls from across the country were also not encouraging for the BJP. An exception was Palghar in Maharashtra, where the BJP beat ally Shiv Sena. This was an important face-saving victory for chief minister Devendra Fadnavis.

With four successive wins, Gorakhpur and Phulpur earlier and now Kairana and Noorpur, the grand alliance of SP, BSP, Cong and RLD in Uttar Pradesh has achieved some credibility. Certainly, it is a pointer that the communal polarisation which won the BJP the state last year, with Kairana in particular giving the BJP a major thumbs up then, has its limits in terms of electoral gains. It perhaps was also, as Rashtriya Lok Dal leader Jayant Chaudhary said, really a victory of ganna (sugarcane) over Jinnah in this sugar bowl of the country.

With Jats, Muslims, a section of the backward castes and Dalits voting for the RLD, the BJP’s core voter strength was easily outnumbered. This happened even though top leaders like Mayawati, Akhilesh Yadav and Rahul Gandhi did not campaign there.

“My first priority will be to bridge the gap between Muslims and Jats which was created after the Muzaffarnagar riots,” said winner Tabassum Hasan. “The voter knows who will work for them and whom to vote for.”

 UP by-election results confidence booster for united Opposition; BJP must get back to drawing board

Tabassum Hasan greets people after the result of the bypoll in Kairana. PTI

Confidence booster

Jumlon ki haar,” (defeat of false promises) was how Amarnath Agarwal, Congress spokesperson in Uttar Pradesh, dubbed the BJP's loss. “The people of the country have realised that they had been taken for a ride by BJP and now the masses are rejecting the saffron party.” If the major Opposition parties set aside their political differences, “they could easily achieve the common agenda of uprooting the BJP at the Centre”, he added.

Given that the margin of defeat was around 44,618 votes, the BJP accepted defeat with some grace. “The power of the alliance between Opposition parties was evident,” said losing BJP candidate Mriganka Singh. Denying that there was any infighting within the party, she admitted that “we will have to prepare more to contest Opposition unity.”

That, and the need for the BJP to go back to the drawing board for its 2019 strategy, dominated the analysis of the Uttar Pradesh results. Though it may be too early to say that the ground is shifting from under the BJP in Uttar Pradesh, the fact is that the decline in voters’ support was not as much a result of closing of ranks by Opposition parties as due to the BJP’s brazen attempt at polarisation on communal lines and whipping up of pseudo-Hindutva sentiments. The rhetoric used by Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath in election rallies did not cut much ice as voters were focused more on local issues than the Ram Mandir or the Jinnah portrait. It is not surprising, therefore, that the BJP’s state and central leaders admitted that a rethink is need. “We will make new strategies to counter the Opposition in future,” said state BJP spokesperson Rakesh Tripathi.

Caste over religion?

Political commentator and author Deepak KS said the BJP “needs to rethink not only its 2019 poll strategy but also who will lead the party’s campaign. Kairana being a predominantly Jat-Muslim stronghold, the voters rejected the BJP for its biased and vengeful attitude during and after Muzaffarnagar riots.”

“It is a victory of caste over religion,” said Pranay Vikram Singh, an independent political commentator. “The BJP seems to be losing the plot. The defeats in Gorakhpur and Phulpur, and now in Kairana and Noorpur have squashed the arrogance of the saffron party. But it would be still immature to assume that the results of the bypolls would, in any way, affect the BJP’s poll prospects in 2019”, he cautions. “It would be naïve to think that the Opposition will stay glued together forever. Their ambitions will one day put them on a collision course. If united, the Opposition could win but if egos and ambitions surface before the polls, the BJP might laugh all the way to the Treasury benches in Parliament”.

Manish Khemka, political observer and head of tax-payers advocacy group, Global Taxpayers Trust, is even more forthright on the fragility of this grand alliance of Opposition unity. “It is the victory of an opportunistic alliance,” said Khemka, “that will soon come unstuck when the dynamics of 2019 Lok Sabha polls come into play in the last quarter of this year.”

The BJP will certainly be banking on this as it draws up the strategy for 2019. The party's position was expressed by Union home minister Rajnath Singh who said, "“To take a giant leap, you will have to take two steps back. We will take a giant leap in future.”

(Authors are freelance writers based out of Uttar Pradesh and members of 101reporters.com, a pan-India network of grassroots reporters)

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Updated Date: May 31, 2018 22:33:01 IST