BJP’s Mission 2019 got a major scare as the party received a stunning blow as it lost the prestigious Gorakhpur and Phulpur Lok Sabha seats in Uttar Pradesh to the Samajwadi Party, supported by the BSP, and two of the three byelections (Jehanabad Assembly and Araria Lok Sabha) to the RJD in Bihar.
The blow was crippling in Uttar Pradesh as the BJP lost Gorakhpur, the saffron citadel and home turf of chief minister Yogi Adityanath, the BJP’s Hindutva icon, as well as the Phulpur Lok Sabha seat held by his deputy Keshav Prasad Maurya. The Lok Sabha seats were vacated by chief minister Yogi Adityanath and deputy CM Keshav Prasad Maurya after they took charge of the state last year. The Gorakhpur seat had been held by the BJP for the past 29 years.
In Bihar, the RJD retained the Araria Lok Sabha seat and the Jehanabad Assembly berths, while the BJP managed to hang on to the Bhabua Assembly seat. The Bihar results was also being seen as a major setback for JD(U) chief and state chief minister Nitish Kumar, who had crossed over to the saffron side.
The UP byelection results were also a major boost for BSP supremo Mayawati and SP’s Akhilesh Yadav, who are struggling to stay afloat electorally in UP, which has been witnessing a saffron surge since 2014. Making it clear yet again that there are no permanent enemies in politics, bitter rivals SP and BSP joined forces after nearly 23 years. The new
slogan “Bua-Bhatija zindabad” finally subdued the saffron roar — “UP mein rahena hoga toh Yogi Yogi kahena hoga”. While Praveen Nishad of SP defeated the BJP’s Upendra Dutt Shukla by 21,881 votes from Gorakhpur, SP’s Nagendra Pratap Singh Patel won Phulpur by a margin of over 59,000 votes.
Shocked and embarrassed by the defeat, 45-year-old CM Yogi Adityanath, who had been winning the Gorakhpur Lok Sabha seat since 1998, admitted that the results were “unexpected” and that an “overconfident” BJP had “underestimated the BSP-SP combination”. Looking grim, the CM told the media: “The BJP’s performance in the two Lok Sabha byelections are a lesson for us and we need to introspect.” He also described the SP-BSP move to join hands as a “contradictory alliance (bemel gathbandhan).”
During the campaign, the BJP, led by chief minister Yogi Adityanath, had exuded confidence about winning both the Gorakhpur and Phulpur Lok Sabha seats and had gone on record to call the elections as a “dress rehearsal for the 2019 Lok Sabha elections”.
Gorakhpur has always been counted as one of the BJP’s safest seats, with Yogi Aditynath in complete control of the constituency. Yogi Adityanath, who was the main face of the campaign, is also the head priest of the Gorakhnath temple. “Gorakhpur has always been a stronghold. Where we went wrong and how we can counter the SP-BSP combine… we will figure it out,” said deputy chief minister Keshav Prasad Maurya.
Thrashed by the BJP in the last Assembly elections, the BSP and SP came together at the last minute. The BSP did not field candidates in Gorakhpur and Phulpur, and instead supported the SP candidates. The Samajwadi Party is now expected to support the BSP in the Rajya Sabha polls in UP later this month. In the Assembly elections last year, the BJP won 325 out of UP’s 404 seats, with Akhilesh Yadav’s party winning only 47 and the BSP 19 seats. The Congress tally was just seven.
Besides the BSP, the SP was also supported by the Left parties, NCP, Nishad ((Nirbal Indian Shoshit Hamara Aam Dal) Party, among other smaller outfits. Mr Akhilesh Yadav’s invitation to Praveen Kumar Nishad of the Nishad Party to contest the Gorakhpur bypoll with the tactical alliance with the BSP proved to be his masterstroke. A prominent OBC caste, the Nishads form 14 per cent of the state’s population and reportedly voted for the BJP en bloc in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections.
In Bihar, the BJP clearly failed to capitalise on Nitish Kumar’s return to the NDA fold as it failed to wrest the Jehanabad Assembly and Araria Lok Sabha berths from the RJD. The Araria Lok Sabha berth was a prestige fight for RJD leader Tejaswhi Yadav, particularly at a time when his father Lalu Prasad Yadav is behind bars. The Bihar results yet again proved that the RJD’s Muslim-Yadav combination continues to work for the outfit. Muslims and Yadavs constitute over 40 per cent of the electorates in the constituency.