The First litmus political challenge for Modi Shah emerges from Akhilesh Mayawati reunion in UP

The First litmus political challenge for Modi Shah emerges from Akhilesh Mayawati reunion in UP

by April 10, 2018 0 comments

It doesn’t need rocket science to say that the BJP’s 3-0 loss in three Lok Sabha by-polls – Gorakhpur and Phulpur in Uttar Pradesh, and Araria in Bihar – is an alarm bell for the saffron party and Prime Minister Narendra Modi ahead of the next general elections, due by May 2019.

The BJP’s triple loss takes away the sheen from its emphatic win in the Northeast, particularly Tripura. Its allies formed governments in Nagaland and Meghalaya too, the latter being the 22nd BJP-ruled state even though the saffron party won only two seats in the 60-member Assembly.

The setback is all the more severe for the BJP as Gorakhpur and Phulpur are no ordinary Lok Sabha constituencies and were represented by chief minister Yogi Adityanath and his deputy Keshav Prasad Maurya respectively.

Since the Modi tsunami in 2014, the BJP hasn’t witnessed such a poll debacle. It’s all the more worrisome for the BJP as it comes from a state where the party’s impressive scoreline was 71 out of 80 seats in the 2014 general elections, and 325 of 403 in Assembly polls last year.

The by-poll results, particularly from Uttar Pradesh, are the best news so far for the Opposition which has been travelling from one electoral defeat to another in the past four years with just three exceptions – Delhi, Bihar and Punjab in chronological order. (Just for the record, the BJP won one – Bhabhua – of the two Assembly by-polls in Bihar. The Jehanabad Assembly seat went to the RJD.)

The UP experiment – Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) supporting Samajwadi Party (SP) – has given the “khul ja sim sim” code to the Opposition for entering the Alibaba caves in 2019. After Bihar, the UP by-polls have conclusively proven that the Modi juggernaut can be finally stopped if the Opposition joins hands and replicates Bihar-type grand alliance in key states.

Here’s how the by-poll results would impact key stakeholders.

Mayawati

The biggest gainer is Mayawati and her BSP, the party which couldn’t even open its account in the 2014 general elections and managed to win just 17 seats in last year’s Assembly polls. This is the first time in six years (her cycle of electoral losses began in the 2012 UP Assembly polls) when Mayawati has reasons to smile. She announced her support to the SP candidates at the eleventh hour, first time since 1993 when the two parties were in the same boat. She said it was not a long term policy which would be determined by the outcome of this experiment. Her new-found bonhomie with the Akhilesh Yadav-led SP should also improve prospects for her Rajya Sabha seat.

The “Bua-Bhatija” slogans that rent the air in Gorakhpur and Phulpur today may well become the template for 2019 general elections. Mayawati has reasons to see light at the end of the tunnel and can afford to be more optimistic that her political winter is finally getting over.

Akhilesh Yadav

Another UP satrap, Akhilesh Yadav, also has reasons to grin from ear to ear. It’s not just because he has now taken his Samajwadi Party’s LS tally to seven and reduced BJP’s to 69, but also because the SP’s spectacular win would go a long way in boosting the morale of the party cadres. The SP victory is like winning a crucial league cricket match before the knockout stage of the tournament which improves the net run rate and bolsters the team’s prospects in upcoming tight contests. Besides, it would inevitably improve bargaining chips for the SP in allocation of seats when SP-BSP-Congress grand alliance is being sewed up ahead of the general elections.

Yogi Adityanath

If Mayawati is the biggest gainer, then Yogi Adityanath is surely the sorest loser. The by-poll losses would dent his image, particularly Gorakhpur, his well nurtured and nourished constituency which he has won for past five consecutive terms. Since he became the UP CM – after some combative posturings with the BJP and intense lobbying with the RSS when the Modi-Amit Shah combine had virtually decided to name union minister Manoj Sinha for the CM’s post – he had emerged as the BJP’s new poster boy and poll mascot who was increasingly being used to address election rallies across the country.

Conspiracy theorists may say that PM Modi himself crafted and choreographed the BJP’s by-poll defeat to clip Yogi Adityanath’s wings, it’s highly unlikely that a shrewd politician like Modi would consciously score a self goal when general elections are inching closer. However, Modi supporters would have a valid argument if they were to point to the fact that Modi didn’t campaign in the by-polls.

The grapevine also has it that all is not well between the RSS and the Modi-Shah team. If that were indeed be so as there is no smoke without fire, it means all the more trouble for Yogi, and his problems would compound during the next general elections. After all, he himself had recently dubbed the UP by-polls as “a dress rehearsal” for the next general elections, a remark which he must be ruing now. Well, loose lips sink ships.

In conclusion, it won’t be improper to say that Modi’s BJP would be really worried if Adityanath’s remark – that these bypolls are “dress rehearsal” before the 2019 general elections – were incidental or prophetic.

The BJP will have to change its election strategy in a big way. The BJP’s defeat in its stronghold and Hindu bastion poses a sensitive question – whether the Hindutva card is probably past its expiry date? It’s an ideal situation for the Rahul Gandhi-led Congress to reinvent itself, first in the forthcoming Karnataka elections and then in Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh this year-end.

Here’s what the drubbing means for the BJP.

1) Going by how the BJP has been projecting Yogi Adityanath as its star campaigner in poll-bound states, it seems the party has been trying hard to strengthen the “Yogi model”. While the saffron party was banking on him to help win elections in other states, Adityanath couldn’t even retain his home turf. Defeat in Gorakhpur has dented his vote-gathering capabilities to a great extent.

2) Since 1989, the BJP had not lost the Gorkhapur Lok Sabha seat. Although the party’s electoral fortune has seen several ups and down, Gorkhapur, until today, remained a saffron citadel. The BJP lost its stronghold despite the party’s popularity at its peak and the chief priest of the “Nath Panth” temple in Gorakhpur occupying the CM’s seat. The fact that the voters chose to go with the Samajwadi Party, will force the BJP and its chief minister to do some serious introspection.

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3) Winning Gorakhpur was a matter of prestige for the BJP as it has been a bastion of chief minister Yogi Adityanath, who has won from that seat for five consecutive times. Yogi Adityanath had secured over 50 per cent vote share in the last three elections, and has campaigned aggressively in this by-poll. He addressed as many as 16 public meetings – something, local party leaders claim, he never did even when he himself was contesting earlier.

Over a dozen state ministers, two Union ministers and several party MPs and MLAs were deployed by the BJP for canvassing in the two constituencies. And yet it lost the two seats.

4) It was after 23 years that archrivals Samawadi Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party reached an electoral understanding, which seems to have got the people’s approval. Although Yogi Adityanath has called it sheer opportunism, it cannot be ruled out that the new combine may led to major changes in UP’s political scenario and may also prove to be a game-changer ahead of the 2019 Lok Sabha elections.

5) In the last Lok Sabha elections, the BJP managed to win 71 of 80 seats on its own in UP (ally Apna Dal also won the two seats where it was contesting, increasing the saffron party’s tally to 73) with around 43 per cent vote share. This was dubbed as a tsunami because the Opposition was fragmented. Had the BSP (with a 19.77 per cent vote share), SP (with 22.35 per cent) and the Congress (with 7.53 per cent) fought the elections together, their vote share would have been 49.65 per cent. This shows that a united Opposition could have stopped the Modi’s juggernaut even in the 2014 in Uttar Pradesh.

The message for the Opposition is is clear. Get united to stop the saffron tsunami, or remain divided and get drowned.

6) A dedicated vote bank of Dalits ensures that Mayawati is capable of transferring votes seamlessly to its alliance partner. It doesn’t matter who she is supporting. And, in this election again she has shown how her supporters have voted for the Samajwadi Party, which was her bitter rival until a few days ago.

7) The Congress party fielded Sureetha Kareem from Gorakhpur, and Manish Mishra for Phulpur, but failed miserably. The party must examine if it wants to follow a go-it-alone policy or go for a grand alliance on the lines of 2015 Bihar’s mahagathbandhan. There are two choices for the Congress – either expand its own base, or stop Modi.

8) Today’s election results have also raised serious questions on the Modi and Yogi model of governance. The fact that the BJP CM and his deputy couldn’t manage to retain their home turfs despite being in power in the state as well as at the Centre, calls for some serious introspection. While BJP president Amit Shah claims that “achhe din” promised by the party has arrived, it seems the people in these constituencies think otherwise.

9) There were speculations of a BJP hand behind former Phulpur MP Atiq Ahmed, who is currently lodged in jail, joining the poll fray. The BJP reportedly tried to divide the minority votes by fielding him as an independent candidate. It seems the voters have seen though the conspiracy and the electoral ploy failed to work for the BJP.

10) The BJP needs to do a serious rethink if it wants to fight back in 2019. It needs to focus on governance, go for another social engineering and try to bring in smaller parties within its fold.

RAJEEV SHARMA  @kishkindha & Ashok Upadhayay

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