Shocking bypoll reversals put BJP leaders on the backfoot

Last Updated 23 September 2014, 17:43 IST

At the BJP national council meeting held four months before the May parliamentary elections, patriarch L K Advani had cautioned his colleagues not to get ‘over confident’ as the party had done and eventually lost the 2004 elections giving the UPA a decade in power.

Narendra Modi might have weaved the caution sounded by his mentor-turned-rival into his electioneering approach. Since his in-your-face high-voltage campaign strategy that yielded historically rich electoral dividends had managed to build a brand that essentially thrived on evenness and discipline. But, Modi’s close aide Amit Shah seemed to have missed the plot after intrinsically executing the gameplan in UP so successfully that it helped him to become BJP president.  

The bad show in the three consecutive by-polls held since Shah took over the BJP’s reign gives an impression that the party blinked on Modi’s election winning mantra.  The postmortem of saffron party losing 13 out of 23 seats it had held last time in three key states of UP, Rajasthan (both in trying times) and Gujarat, made it clear that party was over confident thinking the Modi factor would deliver again, a move perhaps aided by the published ‘mood of the nation’ surveys that portrayed the NDA enjoying an extended honeymoon.  

The other factors that equally contributed were: squabbling among local leaders, differences among candidates and MLAs who vacated seats to become MPs, in some cases wrong choices of candidates and low voting percentage in comparison to recently held general elections.  

In case of UP alone, overpowering of Modi’s development agenda with communal politics, hoping that it would deliver again as it did for them in western UP during the Lok Sabha polls, seems to have not gone down well with the state which saw the party winning only three out of eleven seats in a contest where BSP opted out and Congress had paled. The BJP had won ten and its ally Apna Dal one in 2012 when they were sailing against the strong wind that brought Akhilesh Yadav to power. Apna Dal, now an NDA partner, lost the elections from Rohaniya which falls under the Varanasi parliamentary seat of prime minister Narendra Modi.

Allahabad-based G B Pant Social Science Institute Professor Badri Narayan told Deccan Herald that the party’s over confidence, backed by RSS reluctance to step out enthusiastically, wrong strategy to have three campaigners – Union minister Kalraj Mishra, MP Yogi Adityanath and state unit chief Laxmi Kant Bajpai --  and internal sabotage can broadly be attributed to party’s debacle.

The humiliating loss in Charkhari is being cited as a perfect example for a case study to introspect what went wrong.  Dalit sub-caste Lodh strong leader Uma Bharati had left the seat to represent Jhansi in parliament before becoming a minister in the Modi government. The BJP fielded Geeta Singh came poor third, trounced badly by Samajwadi candidate Kaptan Singh. Party sources said that Singh voiced her differences with Bharti who she blamed for never returning to Charkhari creating local anti-incumbency for her. Other than that choice of candidates also appears to have not fitted into the caste matrix given the fact that Lodhs who are in sizeable numbers in that pocket seemed to have voted for winning SP candidate like other Dalits shifting away from the BJP contrary to position taken during the Lok Sabha polls.

Transfer of Dalit votes

Apart from that, social historian Badri Narayan believes that “an undeclared alliance among the people” leading to transfer of Dalit vote base to the SP has worked against the BJP.  Explaining it, the academician stated that the UP voting behaviour was like what happened in the Bihar bypolls – coming together of Mandal voters without the understanding between arch rival parties  JDU and RJD. The grand partnership between JDU-RJD-Congress squared six of the ten segments with remaining going to the BJP.  The voters also rejected the resurgence of polarising politics propagated by seer-cum-Gorakhpur Yogi Adityanath, the star campaigner. 

The script for the BJP was no different in Rajasthan
where the setting was perfect for a repeat performance. The BJP had won all the 25 seats in the Lok Sabha elections and months prior to that Vasundhra Raje had returned to occupy the chair of the chief minister on a massive mandate, winning 163 of 200 Assembly seats.

 Political analysts are of the view that internal sabotage, CM Raje not delivering in her nine-months stint on a single poll promise and wrong selection of candidates are some of the major reasons for the fiasco. The squandering of Surajgarh seat contested by CM’s close aide Digambar Singh reflected another chapter of rivalry-cum-wrong choice spoiling chances. The Congress, wiped out three months ago in parliamentary elections managed to get some breather since it cornered three seats as against one for the BJP. 

The Congress scooping three of the nine seats in Gujarat was a bad review on the leadership quality of new chief minister, Anandiben Patel, having replaced Modi who ruled the state for 12 years before becoming the PM.

In elections devoid of wave which bypolls mostly are, local issues become more prominent inviting better micro-management.  Modi’s strong persona could tide over internal differences among the party-men and poor candidate selection to, these factors resurfaced this time damaging the BJP’s prospects. 

The low voting percentage in the bypolls in comparison to Lok Sabha elections due to the absence of a dominating and luring factor indicated that the new voters – falling in the age group of 18 to 23 – did not come out to vote this time contrary to crowding of the pooling booths influenced by Modi’s appeal.

Whether the BJP will learn from these mistakes to put up a better show in October 15 Assembly elections to Maharashtra and Haryana remains to be seen.

(Published 23 September 2014, 17:43 IST)

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