Opposition unity posing challenges for BJP in UP, admit party leaders
By the standards it has set since the assembly elections in late 2013, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is certain to be disappointed with the results to the latest round of bypolls.
Of the four Lok Sabha seats and the 10 assembly seats at stake, the BJP won two of the first and only one of the second kind. More significantly, it lost the Kairana Lok Sabha seat in Uttar Pradesh, continuing its dismal record in the state over the past few months.
The BJP has got a reason to worry in Uttar Pradesh, where it won 71 of 80 Lok Sabha seats in 2014 (the number increased to 73 with allies winning two seats), and where growing unity among opposition seems to have brought its juggernaut to a halt yet again. Two party leaders who asked not to be identified admitted that they were worried.
The BJP said bypolls are influenced by local issues. “We lost bypolls in Uttar Pradesh in 2014, but won the assembly elections (in 2017) with a huge margin. The Congress has been designated as a peripheral player in present day politics. It is cheerleading for regional parties,” BJP spokesman Sambit Patra said.
The Congress did win more assembly seats in the bypolls than the BJP (4, compared to 1) but it did not contest three of the Lok Sabha elections, opting instead to support candidates of other parties.
Patra said that in the 2019 election, people would vote for the PM — wherein P stands for ‘performance’ and M for ‘Mehnat’ (work), according to him.
Only a few months ago, in UP, an alliance of the Samajwadi Party (SP) and the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) wrested Gorakhpur and Phulpur — the parliamentary seats of chief minister Yogi Adityanath and deputy CM Keshav Prasad Maurya — from the BJP.
“Losing 10 of 11 Lok Sabha by-elections should worry BJP, anti incumbency has set in. It won states due to anti incumbency against Congress governments,” Sanjay Kumar, director of the centre for the study of developing societies, wrote on Twitter, referring to all the by-elections to parliamentary seats since 2014.
The BJP’s defeat, party insiders admit, has several messages for the party.
The most important is the fact that it is possible for Jats and Muslims to vote for a common candidate in riot-torn western Uttar Pradesh could spell trouble for the BJP in the 2019 general election wherein it will largely depend on consolidation of Hindu vote to sail through. That turns the logic of the party’s famed social engineering on its head.
Considered a Jat-party from Western UP, the Rashtriya Lok Dal fielded a Muslim candidate (Tabassum Hasan) who belonged to the Samajwadi Party and was tacitly supported by the Bahujan Samaj Party, which draws its strength from the Scheduled Caste (Dalit) voters.
In 2014, a division in the opposition camp and consolidation of Hindu votes in a communally charged atmosphere helped the BJP win the Muslim-majority Kairana Lok Sabha seat by a margin of 2.36 lakh votes. Muslims alone account for over 5 lakh of the around 1.6 million voters in Kairana.
One of the two leaders cited in the first instance, a BJP MP from Uttar Pradesh said: “More than Jat-Muslim unity, shift of the non-Jatav voters away from us is a cause of worry. They voted for us in the last two elections.” Dalits account for 21.2% and Muslims 19.2% of Uttar Pradesh’s population. “The arithmetic was against us,” the MP said.