The chemistry that Prime Minister Narendra Modi had struck with the electorate of Uttar Pradesh in the 2014 Lok Sabha and 2017 state Assembly polls was trumped by the arithmetic of Samajwadi Party (SP) and Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) coming together for the Gorakhpur and Phulpur by-elections, the results for which were announced on Wednesday.
In Bihar, the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) retained the Araria Lok Sabha and Jehanabad Assembly seats, while the Bharatiya Janata Party won the Bhabhua Assembly seat.
The results of Gorakhpur and Phulpur came as a shock to the BJP. Gorakhpur was vacated by Chief Minister Adityanath, who had been its representative since 1998; Phulpur fell vacant after his deputy, Keshav Prasad Maurya, quit it. Winning these was a prestige issue for the party.
In Lucknow, SP chief Akhilesh Yadav thanked “bua” or aunt — BSP’s Mayawati — for her support and later drove down to her residence to express his gratitude. The two leaders discussed a grand alliance for the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, sources said.
Akhilesh Yadav said the defeats reflected the failure of the BJP governments, at the Centre and in UP, to fulfill their promises to farmers and youths.
The SP’s win, with the support of the BSP, enthused those in Opposition ranks who have argued for an “index of unity” as a template to challenge the BJP in the Lok Sabha polls. It also led to congratulatory messages from Trinamool Congress chief and West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee and Telangana Rashtra Samiti’s K Chandrasekhar Rao, both of whom interpreted the result as a sign of the rise of regional parties for 2019.
Uttar-Pradesh- Lok Sabha by-polls graphic. (Photo: PTI)The BJP downplayed its defeats in UP. Party spokesperson G V L Narasimha Rao said the electorate wanted “equilibrium” since the BJP has been nearly invincible. He said the BJP might be losing by-polls, but has been winning when it matters, pointing to its recent performance in the Northeast states. Adityanath blamed the defeat on the party’s “overconfidence”, and the “opportunistic” SP-BSP alliance as part of bargain for the Rajya Sabha elections.
However, recriminations started soon with the UP BJP unit blaming the central leadership for overruling it on the choice of candidates, while those in New Delhi insinuating that several castes and communities were upset with Adityanath giving preferential treatment to Thakurs, the caste from which he hails, in government appointments. Despite its poor performance, the Congress seemed invigorated by the result. “Perhaps Adityanath should spend less time lecturing Karnataka on development,” Karnataka CM Siddaramaiah said.
RJD leader of opposition Tejashwi Yadav with HAM(S) Chief Jitan Ram Manjhi and Bihar Congress president Kaukab Quadri flash the victory sign as they celebrate their success in Araria and Jehanabad Lok Sabha by-poll elections. (Photo:PTI)
Adityanath has already made two campaign visits to the southern state, where elections are due in April or May.
Discontent within the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance also came to the fore, with ally Shiromani Akali Dal leader Sukhbir Singh Badal advising the BJP to take the result “seriously”.
Former Janata Dal (United) leader Sharad Yadav, who had campaigned extensively in Bihar, said he stood vindicated in his decision to rebel against Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar's decision to ally with the BJP.
In a letter to the PM, Vishva Hindu Parishad (VHP)’s international working president Pravin Togadia said: “Please don’t get swayed in the flow of power and more power. It is a state of inertia, not nation building.”
UP and Bihar were key to the BJP’s success in 2014, and are crucial to its chances of returning at the Centre in 2019. The BJP had won 71 of the 80 Lok Sabha seats in UP; its ally Apna Dal won two more. In Bihar, the BJP and allies had won 31 of the 40 seats. The two states had provided much of the seats for the BJP to cross the majority mark.
The BJP lost Phulpur by 59,613 votes, despite independent candidate Atiq Ahmed getting a significant chunk of votes. The BJP lost Gorakhpur by 21,961 votes. Adityanath and Maurya had won the two seats by margins over 100,000 votes in 2014. The SP and BSP had fought separately then.
If Gorakhpur has been held by the chief priest of the Gorakhnath Matt continuously since 1989, Phulpur was represented by India’s first prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru between 1952 to 1962. BJP sources said fielding somebody in Gorakhpur who didn’t represent the temple backfired.
For SP and BSP, it was back to 1993 when the two had fought the Assembly polls together and had defeated the BJP in the wake of the Babri Mosque demolition and at the height of the Ram Janmabhoomi movement. In recent months, BSP chief Mayawati has frequently spoken of the BJP “misusing” central probe agencies against her. In Bihar, the results of Araria Lok Sabha, and Jehanabad Assembly seat were a jolt to Chief Minister Nitish Kumar and his deputy and Sushil Kumar Modi.
It also marked the emergence of Tejashwi Yadav as a successor to RJD chief, and his father, Lalu Prasad, who is currently in jail.
The RJD won Araria by over 60,000 votes, whereas it comfortably retained the Jehanabad Assembly seat. But, the BJP faced no problem in winning Bhabhua.
In Araria, Sarfaraz Alam of the RJD defeated the BJP’s Pradip Singh. Sources inside the BJP claimed that the JD(U) failed to transfer its votes. Araria was represented by the RJD’s Mohammad Taslimuddin, whose death on September 17, 2017, necessitated the bypoll. Alam, who had crossed over from the JD(U), is Taslimuddin’s son.
In the Jehanabad Assembly seat, RJD’s Suday Yadav defeated his JD(U) rival Abhiram Sharma by more than 30,000 votes. Suday Yadav is the son of former state minister Mundrika Singh Yadav, whose death necessitated the bypoll. In Bhabhua, the BJP’s Rinki Rani Pandey defeated her Congress rival Shambhu Singh Patel by about 14,000 votes.