Stunned by defeat in bypolls, BJP introspects

In UP, Yogi Adityanath conceded that “overconfidence” cost the party and called for a review.

india Updated: Mar 14, 2018 23:24 IST
Kumar Uttam and Manish Chandra Pandey
Kumar Uttam and Manish Chandra Pandey
Hindustan Times, New Delhi/Lucknow
Bharatiya Janata Party,BJP,Uttar Pradesh
Bhartiya Janta Party state office bears deserted look after Samajwadi party victory in the Gorakhpur and Phulpur Lok Sabha, in Lucknow, India, on Wednesday, Mar 14, 2018.(Deepak Gupta/Hindustan Times)

A stunned Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) was left searching for answers on Wednesday after it lost by-elections to three Lok Sabha seats in UP and Bihar. The two states together account for 120 Lok Sabha seats and are crucial to the party’s prospects in the 2019 polls.

BJP president Amit Shah was at the party headquarters in New Delhi when the results started coming in, but avoided interacting with the media. Central leaders, who were euphoric over recent victories in three northeastern states, lapsed into complete silence — at least publicly.

Privately, they listed several reasons for the defeats in Phulpur and Gorakhpur, UP CM Yogi Adityanath’s home turf, and Araria in Bihar; the Samajwadi Party won the two UP Lok Sabha seats and Lalu Prasad’s Rashtriy Janata Dal took Araria. The BJP leaders cited the changed political arithmetic in the aftermath of the Samajwadi Party (SP)-Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) alliance in UP, adverse social dynamics, poor selection of candidates, indifference towards party workers and the conduct of ministers in Aditynath’s government.

“Many factors contributed to the loss,” a senior BJP politician said. Adityanath conceded that “overconfidence” cost the party and called for a review. Both constituencies also saw a very low turnout. The party had anticipated a tough contest in Phulpur, an SP bastion, but the defeat in Gorakhpur, which Adityanath and his guru Mahant Avaidyanath have represented without a break since 1989, shook the party.

Party leaders said the decision to field a Brahmin candidate in Gorakhpur, where the divide between the priestly community and upper caste Thakurs runs deep, could have been a wrong move. The SP fielded a candidate from the other backward class (OBC) Nishad community, which has over 200,000 votes in the constituency. The BJP won Gorakhpur with a margin of over 300,000 votes in 2014. “The Mutt factor along with the fact that Akhilesh Yadav had tactically put up a candidate belonging to the Nishad OBC caste too influenced the results,” said Athar Siddiqui, director at the Centre of Objective Research and Analysis (CORD).

“Even then, records show the SP-BSP combined vote share was close to BJP’s in at least three out of the five assembly constituencies of Gorakhpur parliamentary seat,” a second BJP leader said on condition of anonymity. The BJP took a huge lead over SP-BSP in the Pipraich and Gorakhpur Urban assembly segments, but party leaders blamed a low voter turnout for its poor performance.

In Phulpur, the BJP fielded an ‘outsider,’ Kaushalendra Singh Patel, a former mayor of Varanasi, against SP’s ‘local’ candidate Nagendra Singh Patel. The BJP is worried about the larger message from Phulpur, a constituency with over 40% OBC population. The BJP’s success in weaning away OBC communities from the SP and BSP had helped its cause in the 2014 Lok Sabha and 2017 assembly elections.

Meanwhile, Vishwa Hindu Parishad leader Pravin Togadia said the BJP’s loss indicated that “times are changing” for the ruling party. “Don’t get swayed by the flow of power and more power,” Togadia said in a letter addressed to PM Narendra Modi.

First Published: Mar 14, 2018 23:24 IST