In a little over a year, Uttar Pradesh’s political landscape has seen a dramatic change. On March 11 last year, the BJP state headquarters rang with celebrations as the party returned to power after a 14-year gap. But on March 14 this year, silence reigned there with all the festivity shifting to the office of the Samajwadi Party — dethroned last year but coming back to limelight by wresting from the BJP both Gorakhpur and Phulpur parliamentary seats. Winning the by-elections for these seats, held by current Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath and Deputy Chief Minister Keshav Prasad Maurya, was a matter of prestige for the BJP but it seemed to have taken its prowess for granted.
The BJP had been winning the Gorakhpur seat since 1989 and Adityanath had held it for five straight terms since 1998. A loss at the hands of a resurgent Bahujan Samaj Party-Samajwadi Party combine in the key seat has left the party red-faced. It is a personal loss for Adityanath who till now thought the seat was his pocket borough. Ever since he was named Chief Minister of the country’s most populous state, he made weekly visits to Gorakhpur, including for prayers at the Gorakhnath temple, where he still is the head priest.
The BJP should have taken some warning from its loss in the civic polls last year but had made light of it. An over-confident Adityanath had, even on Tuesday evening, said at a TV show in the state capital that it would have been better if the Congress had also thrown its lot with the BSP-SP so the combined opposition would be routed. He had also claimed that the BJP will win all the 80 Lok Sabha seats in the 2019 General Elections. Wednesday’s poll outcome might sober him down.
Political observers aver that arrogance holds sway in the ruling party now and it would be too much for BJP leaders to easily shed the feeling of invincibility they think they have in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s charisma. The coming together of arch rivals SP-BSP is an ominous signal for the party.
It appears that, after their triumph, the BSP-SP might set aside their past acrimony and forge an electoral understanding that pays both electoral dividends in 2019. “Mayawati had problems with Mulayam Singh Yadav but now that Akhilesh Yadav is in control of SP and like BJP works fine with Mehbooba Mufti in Jammu and Kashmir but couldn’t with her father, the two archrivals can work together similarly,” says a political observer. Deputy Chief Minister Maurya, whose Phulpur seat has been snatched by SP, admitted that the SP-BSP combination posed a threat.
“We never expected that the BSP votes would transfer in such a way to the SP. We have taken note of the developments and will sit back at the drawing board to find a way out of this challenge,” he said. However, Phulpur is not that much of a setback as it was only in the ‘Modi wave’ of 2014 that it could debut in this traditionally socialist stronghold, which apart from being represented by India’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru and his sister Vijay Laxmi Pandit, had been won four times by the SP.
SP spokesman Anurag Bhadauria says the result proves that the “false promises of Modi and Yogi have been exposed and the people have seen through their rhetoric and are now geared up to boot them out in 2019”. There are lessons galore for both victors and losers from the poll outcome.
While for the BJP, it would mean that solely depending on Modi could be suicidal and that it needs not only to deliver on its high promises but also give up its arrogance, the Congress, which was a poor third, needs to get out of its golden past and accept that in the age when the Modi juggernaut seems unstoppable, accepting regional satraps on equal, if not bigger, footing might not be a bad idea.
The winners of the show — BSP and SP — need to put their heads together and jettison past differences to realize the lethal electoral combine they are together. With just about a year for the 2019 General Elections, time is rapidly running out for all political stake holders to stitch up a winning combination.
Mayawati, known as a tough bargainer and against electoral alliances, will have to be prepared to do business with the SP and Akhilesh, who has now established himself as the unquestioned leader within his party, too needs to be more accommodative to his ‘Buaji’. Will the ‘Bua-Bhatija’ further cement their alliance or will the ‘Maharajji’ (Adityanath) and BJP’s self-proclaimed ‘Chanakya’ (Amit Shah) come up with a better strategy on the political chessboard of UP — only time will tell.