The Samajwadi Party (SP) crashed to a shock defeat in two of three assembly by-poll seats in Uttar Pradesh on Tuesday, losing to the BJP in Muzaffarnagar which erupted in sectarian riots three years ago, killing 60 people and displacing thousands.
The SP lost Deoband to the Congress and managed to retain Bikapur in Faizabad by a whisker, a jolt to the party gearing up to battle anti-incumbency in the 2017 assembly polls. The SP held all three seats previously.
In western UP’s Muzaffarnagar, the SP candidate Gaurav Swaroop--son of minister and sitting MLA Chitranjan Swaroop who died recently--lost to BJP’s Kapil Deo by over 7,000 votes.
In neighbouring Deoband, a consolidation of Dalit and Muslim votes behind Congress candidate Mavia Ali helped him defeat SP’s Meena Rana by 3,690 votes. The BJP came in third.
The results are completely different from the last assembly by-polls in UP that were held after the BJP’s massive 2014 Lok Sabha elections. All the 11 seats that went to the polls in 2014 were held by the BJP and its ally Apna Dal. At that time, the SP had walked away with seven seats while the BJP retained three.
The by-poll results are being seen as a debacle as the party lost both seats in western UP that has seen rising communal tensions, especially over beef eating.
During the state assembly session, chief minister Akhilesh Yadav said: “We accept today’s verdict with humility.”
The Dalit vote bank that helped the SP win the 2014 by-polls also deserted the party this time.
Last time, since the BSP didn’t contest the by-polls, the SP had gained from it. However, Tuesday’s results, especially in Deoband, indicate that Dalits didn’t back the SP this time. The SP lost Deoband to the Congress and managed to retain Bikapur in Faizabad by a whisker, a jolt to a party gearing up to battle anti-incumbency in the 2017 assembly polls.
BJP state president Lakshmi Kant Bajpai said: “The results show the shape of things to come. The SP’s countdown towards the exit has begun.”
Deoband is considered a traditional stronghold of the BSP where the party’s Manoj Choudhary won in 2007. Before him, Rajendra Rana was elected MLA in 2002 who later contested the 2012 election on a Samajwadi Party ticket and won. The party fielded Rana’s widow Meena Rana this time but Dalit voters preferred to go with Mavia Ali, which paved the way for a Congress victory on the seat after a gap of 27 years.
All the three seats fell vacant following the deaths of SP heavyweights who occupied them. The party fielded direct descendants of the deceased on the respective seats hoping to cash in on sympathy, but the idea did not work.