In Parliament, BJP president Amit Shah appeared chipper and confident despite his party’s setbacks in the recently held bypolls. He breezily remarked that while the BJP has just won eight states, the media was focusing merely on eight by-elections. The BJP may dismiss the Uttar Pradesh results as an aberration and the result of the arithmetic of the SP-BSP alliance, but there are clear indications that the party’s own cadre is unhappy. In Phulpur and Gorakhpur, it needs to analyse not just who came to vote, but who did not. In Gorakhpur city, Yogi Adityanath’s pocket borough, the turnout was a mere 37%. In Allahabad North, the BJP stronghold in Phulpur, the turnout was 20%. Many ministers and MLAs are unhappy with Yogi Adityanath as he does not bother to interact with them and their wings have been clipped. The MLAs are resentful that their traditional powers have been taken away from them, whether it is giving instructions to the police or control over permits and quotas. In the bargain, they are unable to keep the party’s support base happy. Adityanath, accustomed to running his mutt as a one-man show, has little experience in running a political party or a government, they grumble.
Priyanka Gandhi may not have figured prominently at the Congress Plenary Session, but behind the scenes, she played an active role in organisational matters. A perfectionist, Priyanka even took interest in trying to control the mosquitoes that swarmed all over the Indira Gandhi Indoor Stadium in Delhi. She supervised the fumigation and cleaning up of the venue. However, the mosquito menace could not be fully tackled. Several new concepts in the programme also had Priyanka’s touch. Some Congresspersons claimed that it was at her behest that the revolutionary decision was taken to do away with the party’s century-old tradition of placing chairs and bolsters for a select few on stage. This time the dais was reserved only for the person speaking. That way, there was no heartburn among leaders. Others, however, say it was Sam Pitroda who first mooted the idea, inspired by the US Democratic Party convention. The eye-catching lighting, using the Indian flag colours, the sound effects and the music between speeches, all seem to have been modelled on American political conventions.
On the day of the BJP’s defeat in the two by-elections in Uttar Pradesh, the Twitter feeds of none of the party’s top leaders made any reference to the poll debacle or on the need for introspection. Instead, Amit Shah, Dharmendra Pradhan, Piyush Goyal, Nirmala Sitharaman, Sarbananda Sonowal, Suresh Prabhu, Ravi Shankar Prasad, Ananth Kumar, Sambit Patra and many others focused on condoling the death of iconic scientist Stephen Hawking. The similarity in the wording of the condolence messages also led to the speculation that there was a party diktat on sending out the messages on Hawking and not the bypolls. For instance, the line “understanding of the universe” while referring to Hawking found a mention in almost all of the BJP leaders’ tweets.
Rahul Gandhi called on NCP president Sharad Pawar at his daughter Supriya Sule’s residence in Delhi, to discuss a possible electoral alliance for Maharashtra. This displeased some Maharashtra Congress leaders who felt that they were not consulted and that Pawar should have called on Rahul. They pointed out that Rahul’s predecessors as Congress president, Sonia and Rajiv, made it a matter of prestige and always met opposition leaders on their own terms, except in the case of Jayalalithaa. The Congress leaders need a reality check on the party’s debilitated state. For instance, unlike the BSP, the Congress did not agree to support the Samajwadi Party in the two UP bypolls. Talks with Akhilesh Yadav broke down because the Congress insisted that it be allowed to contest in one of the two seats. Eventually the Congress lost its deposit in both Gorakhpur and Phulpur.
After Gorakhpur and Phulpur, Mayawati is contemplating taking Akhilesh’s help to fight the Kairana Lok Sabha bypoll in Uttar Pradesh. Though Mayawati does not normally contest by-elections, she wants to make an exception in this case as both the SP and BSP have strong pockets of influence in the constituency. The increasing bonhomie between the SP and BSP, however, is not helping the Congress. Mayawati insists that any tie-up with the Congress cannot be restricted to just UP, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan, but must extend across the country. Something that the Congress is unwilling to concede.