What the trial ‘by-election’ portends for the 2019 general elections?
As the results of the high-profile Lok Sabha seats of Gorakhpur and Phulpur in Uttar Pradesh, which went into polling on March 11, began to come in, the figures threw up an unexpected result for the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). If the BJP sat down and analysed and extrapolated the results of the by-elections, it would discover that repeating the 2014 feat would seem like a distant possibility. By wresting control of these two very symbolic seats from the BJP, the gathbandhan (alliance) formed by the Samajwadi Party (SP) and the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) has managed to create a formula that can be used to beat the saffron party in the upcoming General Elections.
Both Gorakhpur and Phulpur serve as important points for the overwhelming mandate received by the BJP in 2014. Further, the selection of the sitting MPs as Chief Minister and Deputy Chief Minister ensured their key position in the strategy to retain UP. Adityanath in Gorakhpur and Keshav Prasad Maurya in Phulpur had won the seats handsomely with margins close to three lakh votes. And when on March 11, both these seats registered a low voter turnout, Gorakhpur only 47.45 percent and Phulpur even lower with 37.39 percent, common wisdom dictated that the people do not want change. It is also noteworthy that the election would be valid for the next year until the 2019 General Elections. However, the result tells another story, one that promises to forge different alliances and determine the roadmap of the 2019 elections.
Yogi’s elevation to Chief Minister befuddled many, and his time in power has been an all-out effort to improve his public image. However, despite his chest beating and assertions of good governance, not much has happened. On the other hand, his policies have polarised UP society not only along religious, but caste lines as well. From encounters to riots, the policies of the government has alienated several sections in the state. In addition, the unregulated use of encounters to stem the rising crime as a replacement for policing, the Romeo Squads, his failure to build pothole-free roads and other promises have been left unfinished.
The violence of the Saharanpur riots of April 2017, shortly after the BJP assumed power, has alienated the Dalits. This anger amongst Muslims, Dalits and other castes have led to the stunning defeat in the Gorakhpur and Phulpur seats.
While rumours have emerged that point to candidate selection and the fielding of Shankar, who has been inimical to Adityanath, no party machinery would forfeit a seat.
Congress candidates in both Phulpur and Gorakhpur had to forego their security deposits because they failed to poll more than one-sixth of the valid votes polled in the constituency. The loss of these two seats, especially Phulpur that used to be represented by Jawaharlal Nehru, marks a new low for the party that has seen many losses in the recent past. In the time to come, Congress must decide if it should continue to fight elections to the point of irrelevance or be part of an alliance.
The shutting down of slaughterhouses, regulation of cattle trade and growing cow vigilantism in the state, and the fall in farmer revenues have contributed to the crippling of the rural economy. The 3,600 crore loan waiver has also done little to assuage the distress of sugarcane farmers in the western part of the state and in other drought-affected areas.
Together the caste arithmetic, the anger amongst the Dalits, Muslims and farmers have contributed to a stunning defeat of the BJP in the lead up to the General Elections in 2019. The retaining of the Araria Lok Sabha seat in Bihar by the RJD after trailing initially also serves as a shot in the arm for Tejashwi Yadav, as he tries to steer the party in the absence of his father, Lalu Prasad Yadav. However, it is the loss of Gorakhpur and Phulpur that will shock the BJP the most and it might try to underplay the growing resentment on the ground against its policies.