Warning signals to BJP

Incumbent governments have not always done well in a bypoll. Otherwise, BJP should have performed creditably in Gujarat and Rajasthan.

The Indian voters never cease to surprise. They did it again in the recent bypolls in Rajasthan, Gujarat and above all, Uttar Pradesh. 

Usually, byelections are not taken seriously as local factors normally influence them. But all the bypolls held recently, ever since the Modi government came to power - first in Uttarakhand where the Congress won all the three by-elections (here the BJP had swept in all the five Lok Sabha seats), or in Bihar, where  the `grand alliance’ of Lalu Prasad and Nitish Kumar wrested seats from the BJP - have stunned the pundits. Neither the BJP, nor the Samajwadi Party, nor the Congress expected these results.

In the normal course, the BJP should have won all the 11 assembly seats in UP, and not just 3. These were seats it had won in the 2012 state elections, and were, in the first place, strongholds of the party, not of the SP. What is more, the Modi wave had swept UP only four months ago, the BJP winning with its ally, the Apna Dal, an unprecedented 73 out of the 80 seats. 

It was the UP outcome which had catapulted Narendra Modi to power, with a clear majority for the BJP for the first time in its history, making for a political stability that is forcing the world look at India with new eyes. 

An extraordinary aspect of the bypoll result is that people preferred the SP to the BJP. The SP had been discredited, and under attack for its failure on the law and order front, on women’s safety, the communal riots since the Akhilesh Yadav government took charge. And yet a majority of people in these constituencies decided that the SP with all its faults and criminal image was better than the BJP.

The SP’s vote share increased by a whopping 26 per cent, the BJP’s slumped by almost 10 per cent. These are not small figures. This could not have happened only because the SP fielded candidates with a good image this time. Nor because it prevented senior leader Azam Khan from campaigning, to prevent a Hindu-Muslim polarisation from taking place, which had happened during the LS elections when the Muslim vote got divided in Western UP, and the SP came a cropper. 

This time, the contests became one-on-one, at the ground level, with Mayawati staying away from the polls and a further weakening of the Congress party. The SP obviously got the votes of the Muslims but not just of the Muslims alone. It also got a chunk of the dalit votes and of the non-Yadavs.

The message coming  out of UP is very similar to the one that had emanated from Bihar last month in the bypolls held there, where the combination of Lalu Prasad, Nitish Kumar and the Congress managed to win 6 out of 10 seats and the BJP got only 4. The message is that when the non-BJP forces got together, they could still defeat the BJP.  Even with the Modi wave, the BJP had polled only 31 per cent of the popular vote. The remaining 69 was with others.

Euphoria over in months

But in UP, the euphoria had died down within a matter of four months, which normally does not happen. It was not as if the BJP was in power in Lucknow. It was in the saddle at the Centre where the honeymoon period still continued. 

The only factor which could explain this was a “reaction” to the kind of politics that the BJP had been playing in UP in the last four months. The attempts at Hindu-Muslim polarisation had been going on  since government formation in May 2014 , the idea being to win byelections and prepare the ground for the state elections due in 2017. 

The violent incidents in Moradabad and Saharanpur lost to the brass and wood industry-- in the hands of Hindu and Sikh businessmen who employ Muslim workers-- crores of rupees.  The hate speeches by BJP MP Sakshi Maharaja that madrasas were training grounds for terror, or by Yogi Adityanath, BJP MP from Gorakhpur, on “love jihad” (against inter-community marriages) neither went down well with the youth nor with others who apprehended  a rise in  communal temperatures. Rather, people had hoped to get on with life and prosper under the Modi regime. 

A section of the Hindus have been angry when parties—both the Congress and the SP— have played the   politics of “appeasement” for votes, and they turned to the BJP. But they have also shown an abhorrence for the politics of the extreme, with a majority wanting to live and let live. 

So also, in the September byelections, the religious polarisation which had to an extent helped in the LS elections, became electorally counter- productive  and the BJP and its ally Apna Dal lost 8 of the 11 seats they had held in the state assembly.

To say that incumbent governments always have the advantage in a bypoll does not cut much ice. For by that logic, the BJP should have won all the seats in Gujarat. And the four bypolls in Rajasthan instead of losing three to the Congress, giving the down-and-out party a fillip.  

Clearly, the people did not buy the dual approach of the party—with the PM striking inclusive notes and partymen going all out to create a Hindu-Muslim divide for electoral purposes. Since he has taken over, Modi  has not struck a false note, spoken of  “sabka saath, sabka vikas”,  called for a “moratorium on caste and communal violence for 10 years”, and acknowledged  that “Indian Muslims will live and die for India”. Yet, he was silent on the hate speeches, with no word coming to chasten his party MPs. 

The bypolls have come as a warning to the BJP that the people expect-- and voted for - governance and development,  not for love jihad. 

 

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