Gorakhpur bypoll defeat: ominous signal for BJP from UP

Gorakhpur bypoll defeat: ominous signal for BJP from UP

The humiliating defeat in the saffron bastion of Gorakhpur, as well as the loss of Phulpur, in the Lok Sabha bypolls earlier this week in the politically crucial state of Uttar Pradesh, which sends 80 members to the Lok Sabha, have set off alarm bells in the BJP. In 2014, the BJP had won 73 of those 80 seats.

The BJP's loss, while dealing a body blow to the saffron party ahead of the 2019 parliamentary elections, has come as a huge boost for the opposition parties, especially Akhilesh Yadav's Samajwadi Party (SP) and Mayawati's Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), which had both been crushed under the Narendra Modi juggernaut not only in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls but also in the March 2017 assembly polls in the state.

The bypoll results have also spurred attempts to form a 'mahagatbandhan' (grand alliance) of the opposition parties to counter the BJP in India's largest state in the 2019 general elections.

What compounded the misery of the saffron party was not only that the two seats were held by Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath and his deputy Keshav Prasad Maurya but also that its carefully crafted social engineering, which catapulted it to power with a thumping majority barely a year ago, appeared to be in complete disarray.

The non-Yadav OBCs and the non-Jatav Dalits who had sided with the BJP in the 2014 LS and 2017 assembly polls, have evidently shifted loyalties.

BJP leaders here admit that the defeats, especially the one in Gorakhpur, which is the home town of Adityanath and has been represented by him and his guru Mahant Avaidyanath continuously since 1989, were ''worrisome''. "Gorakhpur had never ditched us…it remained loyal to the Gorakshpeeth even when our performance was not good elsewhere,'' remarked a senior state BJP leader.

While it was also a personal loss of face and prestige for Adityanath and it may trigger a demand within the BJP for an "overhaul" in the government and the party before the bigger electoral battle next year, the saffron party is worried that even its 'Hindutva' plank may not be of much help in the 2019 polls. Adityanath had addressed over two dozen rallies in Gorakhpur and Phulpur to garner support for his party nominees.

Murmurs of dissent have already started within the state BJP rank and file, several senior leaders have called Adityanath's ability to govern into question and indirectly sought his removal.

BJP MP from Gonda Brijbhushan Saran Singh and senior OBC leader and former MP Ramakant Yadav have openly questioned Adityanath's leadership and targeted the latter over the defeats. "The losses show the failure of the chief minister…he failed to take all sections of society along…the Dalits and OBCs feel neglected and sidelined…we will suffer if corrective measures are not taken,'' Yadav said.

The party is also worried over reports of differences between Adityanath and Maurya. Even the RSS had expressed concern over the differences between the two senior leaders and the resentment amongst party workers over the style of functioning of the government. Both Gorakhpur and Phulpur seats were prestigious for the BJP as Adityanath himself represented Gorakhpur in Lok Sabha and deputy CM Keshav Prasad Maurya represented Phulpur before resigning after they became members of the UP legislative council.

SP-BSP tie-up

The bypoll results have also done something considered unthinkable by political pundits so far - having tasted blood, arch-rivals SP and BSP are now more or less set to join hands for the 2019 hunt.

BSP supremo Mayawati, who had so far not shown enthusiasm to forge a grand alliance, is said to have agreed to the idea. Mayawati had only extended support to SP in the bypolls as an "experiment". "Had the experiment failed, there would have been no alliance…but now, it's very much on the cards," one SP leader told Deccan Herald.

"The BJP can be defeated if opposition parties join hands…there are many issues on which we can put the saffron party on the defensive," said SP leader Ram Govind Chaudhary. Talks for a grand alliance were already on, sources said, adding that a broad formula was likely to be worked out in the next few months.

The victory has also come as a boost for SP chief Akhilesh Yadav. Even his uncle and detractor Shivpal Singh Yadav praised Akhilesh for leading the party to victory. A patch-up between Akhilesh and his father Mulayam Singh Yadav and Shivpal is now more or less certain.

"The wins will help Akhilesh consolidate his hold over the party and silence his detractors…those party workers who may have opposed Akhilesh, will now switch loyalty to him," claimed another SP leader.

Congress leaders also appeared to be hopeful of putting up a good fight in 2019 if there was an alliance. They feel that the BJP had managed to win last year's UP assembly polls only by wooing non-Yadav backward castes.

"Such a tactic will not work in the 2019 LS polls…the state government has done nothing for the non-Yadav OBCs in the past year," says state Congress leader Dwijendra Tripathi.

BJP leader Vijay Bahadur Pathak, however, said that even a grand alliance of the opposition parties would not be able to stop BJP from coming to power again in 2019. "People will never vote for parties which come together only to win elections…there is no alternative to Narendra Modi,'' he said.

Pathak is confident that the saffron party would change its electoral strategy to counter the alliance. ''We will win, irrespective of the combined opposition,'' he said.

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