BJP faces major electoral setback

  • Represents promise for India’s democracy

Even though it may be too early to declare a victory, what happened in the by-elections to Lok Sabha seats in UP and Bihar has given hope that Indian politics may not have been lost entirely to Hindu nationalists. BJP has lost all three seats with considerable margin, including two UP seats vacated by its sitting MPs.

The most stunning defeat was on the seat vacated by none other than the sitting chief minister, Adityanath, who had taken the politics of UP with a storm and was considered the real architect of BJP’s tumultuous victory from UP in both the general elections in 2014 and the state elections in 2017. Aditya was returning to Lok Sabha from the Gorakhpur seat since 1998, when he was first elected as the youngest MP at the age of 26. He was following in the footsteps of his spiritual father, Avaidyanath and grandfather, Digvijay Nath, who have spawned a politically charged religious movement that has closely aligned itself with Hindu nationalism, especially RSS. It is also the torch bearer of Ram Mandir movement, with such distinctions to its credit as the transportation of idols in Babri Mosque in 1948 by Digvijay Nath and demolition of the mosque in 1992, led by Avaidyanath. Barring the heyday of Congress, Gorakhpur seat was reserved for these three firebrand priests-politicians. They all have been Mahant (head priest) of Gorakhpur Mutt, a centuries old temple revered by the people inhabiting the foothills of Himalaya including Nepal. The creed is highly egalitarian and hence low caste Hindus and even some Muslims hold the place in veneration. Aditya, by becoming CM, had taken the fortunes of Nath family to unprecedented heights.

The other UP seat from Phulpur, Allahabad, was vacated by deputy chief minister Keshave Prasad Maurya (an RSS man who served as BJP UP president before elevation as deputy CM). He was also elected in 2014 general elections. Thus, the seats represented the two pillars of BJP establishment in UP and were considered safest. Yet the electorate have handed them down a crushing defeat. It is curious to note that this is a seat which was occupied by former prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru. It is a measure of how far the fortunes of Congress of have declined that its candidate in the election lost his security deposit.

While one should not read too much in few by-elections’ results, it is difficult to ignore a number of significant realities about BJP popularity, despite its huge victories in north Indian states’ elections including Tripura

How this remarkable victory was made possible?

The credit for this stunning victory goes singularly to young Akhilesh Yadav, a former CM and an heir to Samjwadi Party’s (SP) supremo Mulayam Singh Yadav. Having learnt from his own humiliating defeat in 2017 state elections, he carefully crafted a winning strategy by weaving an electrical alliance with his erstwhile rival Mayawati of Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and other smaller parties such as communists and lower caste groups. The alliance consolidated the previously divided anti-BJP vote, which was the major reason behind their routing in last year’s state assembly elections. SP also formed an alliance with Nishad party with a significant vote bank of disparate backward groups who work along the river as boat-owners, fishers and related works. As a master stroke, Akhilesh chose the son of the Nishad party president, Pravin Nishad, as his party’s candidate further strengthening the BSP support.

An analysis of the overall UP results both in 2014 (general) and 2017 (state) elections shows that BJP won hands down simply because of the split between these two parties. However, in both these constituencies in 2014, the BJP candidates had won absolute majority. But in 2017 elections, only Gorakhpur seat was won with absolute majority. Wresting these constituencies was, thus, no mean task. However, the alliance turned out to be the winner in both the constituencies. What is more, both elections have been won with significant margins: more than 59,000 (Phulpur) and 21,000 (Gorakhpur). It appears that the electorate have sent a laud message of rejection to the policies of harassment, intimidation and rhetoric championed by BJP particularly Adityanath.

In Bihar, the seat fell vacant after the incumbent MP Muhammad Taslimuddin died. His son, Sarfraz Alam, contested the election and faced the transformed political landscape as the state government, which was previously formed by Nitish Kumar in alliance with Lalu Prashad and after defeating BJP in 2015, was now in alliance with BJP. Yet, Sarfraz Alam defeated BJP candidate with a margin of more than 63,000 votes. A loud and clear message from the voters that they did not approve of Nitish Kumar’s decision to dump the alliance with Lalu’s Rashtria Janata Dal (RJD). Kumar’s own candidate on a state assembly seat was also defeated by nearly 35,000 votes.

There may be a deeper politics running within BJP which may have contributed to the humiliation of Yogi Aditiyanath. After the UP elections, PM Modi and Amit Shah, president, BJP, were not keen to appoint Yogi as the CM; their choice would have been the junior railway minister Manoj Sinha or Maurya, to reward him for mobilising the support of backward classes. Yogi had a rocky relationship with BJP as he took an independent view of political realities and never hesitated in even opposing BJP candidates by fielding his own. Yet, he was closet to RSS, which encouraged him to challenge BJP dictatorship. Yogi shrewdly deployed his RSS support to thwart the Modi-Amit combine. After becoming CM, Yogi was making full use of his office to consolidate his political power. There was even talk that he could challenge Modi for PM position after the next elections. It is, therefore, not unreasonable to speculate that BJP may not have supported its candidate with the zeal and enthusiasm shown on such occasions. To Yogi’s detractors, nothing could be a greater pleasure than to see him humiliated in his own consecrated constituency.

While one should not read too much in few by-elections’ results, it is difficult to ignore a number of significant realities about BJP popularity, despite its huge victories in north Indian states’ elections including Tripura.

These realities include: (a) BJP can be defeated in its power base of UP, that too in the safest seats, if the deep divisions between SP and BSP are resolved; (b) if the alliance survives the next general elections, it can wrest the control of UP government; (c) Yogi’s divisive policies and inflammatory rhetoric is not a substitute for good governance and economic development needed by the people; (d) People of India have shown their ability to shun extremism and vote for moderate candidates and inclusive political parties; and, (e) The loss of seats belonging to sitting CM and deputy CM is a testimony to the fairness and impartiality of electoral process. This represents great promise for India’s constitutional democracy.


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