The loss of three Lok Sabha seats – Gorakhpur and Phulpur in UP and Araria in Bihar – in byelections has come as rude shock to the Bharatiya Janata Party. The two seats in UP were vacated by Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath and Deputy Chief Minister Keshav Prasad Maurya. The BJP had held the Gorakhpur seat for two and a half decades: loss of the seat is public disgrace of Yogi Adityanath whose citadel Gorakhpur was supposed to be. Since he became Chief Minister he had showered the constituency with projects of various types. Given the fact that the people of Uttar Pradesh had given the BJP a huge mandate just a year ago, was the outcome a rejection of Yogi’s leadership or was it a vote against the Modi government? Perhaps both the state and central leaderships of the party have to share the blame. As the BJP earlier lost byelections in Rajasthan owing to the growing unpopularity of the BJP government in the state, but the central leadership, which always takes the credit for victories, cannot escape responsibility for the losses.
The defeat of BJP candidates in Gorakhpur and Phulpur, which the party had won by over three lakh votes in 2014, is being explained by the party as unexpected. Does it not suggest that the BJP strategists lost to the strategists in the Samajwadi Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP)? The BJP also failed to defeat the Rashtriya Janata Dal in Araria in Bihar, despite using all tactics to polarize voters in Bihar along religious lines. The party, which was basking on its success in the Northeastern states and hoping to send a message to the voters in the Hindi heartland about its invincibility and growth all over the country, was hit by a shocking anti-climax. The UP Chief Minister has attributed the loss to overconfidence in the party. The BJP apparently took the alliance between the Samajwadi Party and Bahujan Samaj Party for granted and was hoping that the BSP would not be able to transfer its votes in favour of SP. The SP-BSP alliance led to consolidation of the Yadavs, the other backward classes, Dalits and Muslims and propelled the SP to win both the seats in UP. The results also indicated that there was a swing away from the ruling party. The BJP had gone to town calling the alliance between SP and BSP opportunistic but apparently failed to convince voters to rally behind it and ultimately lost the plot and by-elections.
The defeat of the BJP in UP and Bihar byelections is not an isolated one as it has lost elections to 10 Lok Sabha constituencies since the last general elections. It lost to the Congress in Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh in recent by-elections, to the Trinamool Congress in West Bengal and to the SP-BSP alliance in UP and the RJD in Bihar. Though the party has managed to form government in 20 plus states of country, the reverses it has suffered in recent past would surely dent its image raising questions of its invincibility in the run-up to the 2019 elections to the Lok Sabha. The victory of the SP-BSP alliance in UP is likely to compel the opposition parties to forge a broader alliance against the BJP ahead of the next parliamentary polls. The signs of formation of grand alliance or ‘Mahagathbandhan’ were visible as leaders of 20-plus parties gathered at a dinner hosted by Sonia Gandhi. In case the grand alliance is formed sinking differences, the going may not be easy for the BJP which has been losing its allies, one after another, in the recent past. The BJP leadership has called for analysis of the election results and introspection. The only consolation that the BJP can take at the moment is the drubbing of the Congress in UP, where the candidates of grand old party lost their deposits.
The recent losses indicate that while the BJP has gained ground in newer areas it was losing ground where it is ruling – Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. The opposition was quick to attribute the BJP losses to its arrogance and anti-people policies. Have the people voted against the BJP for its failure to keep its promises on various issues including corruption? Or was it a vote against its policies like demonetization and Goods and Services Tax? The BJP will have to quickly find answers and take steps to gain the lost ground if it wants to win the next parliamentary elections.