UP-Bihar bypolls result: The gamechangers that BJP must reckon with

The BJP’s shock loss in the Uttar Pradesh and Bihar bypoll, and Gorakhpur in particular, is in sharp contrast to the 2014 general election in which the party, along with its ally, had swept 73 of the 80 seats in UP.

india Updated: Mar 15, 2018 10:45 IST
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Supporters hold up photos of Samajwadi Party chief Akhilesh Yadav and Bahujan Samaj Party chief Mayawati to celebrate the their electoral victory in the Lok Sabha bypoll elections, at Lahurabir Azad Park, Varanasi on March 14, 2018. (Rajesh Kumar/HT Photo )

In a stunning blow to the BJP, the national party lost bypolls to all three Lok Sabha seats it contested, including its bastion Gorakhpur, and Phulpur in Uttar Pradesh, besides Araria in Bihar.

The bypoll outcome in general, and the loss of Gorakhpur in particular, sparked shock and introspection in the BJP, which, along with its ally, had swept 73 of the 80 seats in UP in 2014. It also comes as an anticlimax after the BJP’s surprise win in three northeastern states, including Tripura, where it scripted history, demolishing the Left citadel of 25 years and forming its first government in the state. Together with its regional allies, the BJP also formed its governments in Nagaland and Meghalaya.

The defeat energised the Opposition, which claimed that the victory had laid the foundations for a grand alliance in 2019.

Read | Bypoll results: Politics in the Hindi heartland has returned to normal

Here’s a look at the key people in this election.

Akhilesh Yadav, Samajwadi Party

Victories in the by-elections to Gorakhpur and Phulpur Lok Sabha seats in UP are expected to push Samajwadi Party (SP) chief Akhilesh Yadav back to the political centre stage and enable him to play a role in forging opposition unity in the fight against the BJP in next year’s election.

Yadav was keeping a low profile since the SP’s humiliating defeat in the 2017 UP assembly elections in which the BJP secured a commanding majority. The twin by-election victories it scored on Wednesday after striking an alliance with the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) could play a role in determining the opposition’s strategy in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections.

“UP’s bypoll outcome has sent a political message across the country as the BJP has lost the seats held by CM Yogi Adityanath and deputy CM Keshav Prasad Maurya,” Yadav said. “BJP failed to keep the promises made to the people. Its failure on farm loan waiver front and providing employment have been causes of concern.”

Samajwadi Party chief Akhilesh Yadav with party leaders and workers at his office in Lucknow on Wednesday. (Subhankar Chakraborty/HT Photo)

Yadav said the SP’s victories reflected the people’s anguish with BJP, adding that the support offered by BSP and other parties to SP candidates was a major factor in the outcome.

He also targeted Adityanath for using abusive language. “No CM has ever shown such disrespect and used derogatory language… The SP-BSP alliance was called a tie-up between a snake and a mole...”

Yadav’s political acumen will be tested again as he makes efforts to take the alliance with BSP forward and attract more parties to its fold, while keeping BSP chief Mayawati in good humour. This factor was probably on top of his mind as he decided to send leader of opposition in UP assembly Ram Govind Chaudhary to meet Mayawati at her residence before speaking to reporters.

Mayawati, Bahujan Samaj Party

Late on Wednesday night, Akhilesh Yadav drove up to BSP chief Mayawati’s house on Lucknow’s Mall Road to thank her for supporting the SP bid in Gorakhpur and Lucknow.

The moment was significant at multiple levels.

Akhilesh’s father, Mulayam Singh, and Mayawati shared a deep rivalry.

Akhilesh himself had replaced Mayawati as chief minister in 2012. The two parties and their social base — of OBCs and Dalits — have fought each other on the ground.

His acknowledgement, however, represented a turning point.

And at the centre of it lies the person who was marked politically irrelevant less than a year ago.

BSP president Mayawati and Samajwadi Party leader Ram Govind Chaudhary exchange greetings in Lucknow on Wednesday. (PTI Photo)

Mayawati has lost three elections in a row — 2012, 2014 and 2017. Her key aides have quit. Outside power, her patronage structure has weakened and she is reduced to her core vote of Jatavs from commanding the support of wider Dalit communities across sub-castes.

Yet Mayawati has also held over 20% of the vote election after election. Her voters also ‘transfer’ their votes more willingly than other social groups when the party line says so. And so, while BSP did not even contest this election, her signal to the party to support SP benefited it tremendously. It prevented a fragmentation of the anti BJP vote and re-established her importance in state and national politics.

Even without contesting, Mayawati is back as a factor in 2019 polls.

Tejashwi Yadav, Rashtriya Janata Dal

Rashtriya Janata Dal leader and former deputy chief minister Tejashwi Prasad Yadav on Wednesday emerged from the shadows of his father Lalu Prasad, leading the party to thumping victories in the Araria parliamentary and Jehanabad assembly seats.

Though the RJD lost in Bhabua, the twin victories helped Tejashwi, 28, shed the tag of “bachcha” in politics, as he is often ridiculed by the BJP.

Many in the RJD believe the wins are in many ways a personal victory for Tejashwi, for whom the bypolls were his first litmus test in the absence of Lalu Prasad, who did not spearhead the campaign for the first time in two decades. Lalu is jailed in Ranchi after his conviction in a fodder scam case. The victory will also come as a sweet revenge after chief minister Nitish Kumar-led Janata Dal (United) broke off a pre-poll alliance with the RJD and the Congress to return to the BJP-led NDA fold. In a matter of hours, Tejashwi became the leader of opposition from the deputy CM.

RJD leader of opposition Tejashwi Yadav (centre) with HAM (S) Chief Jitan Ram Manjhi (right) and Bihar Congress president Kaukab Quadri flash the victory sign as they celebrate their success in Araria and Jehanabad Lok Sabha bypoll elections in Patna on Wednesday. (PTI Photo)

Tejashwi has managed to send out a message that his boyish charms may still not be as lethal as his father’s rustic wit and gift of gab, but he can bring in the votes, especially where the party has its stronghold, especially its traditional Muslim-Yadav vote bank. Araria has formidable Muslim-Yadav electorate — 40% Muslims and 20% Yadavs — while Jehanabad is mainly Yadav-dominated.

“The Tejashwi factor in Araria and Jehanabad was surely in play as he was able to keep the Yadav voters intact despite BJP-led NDA wooing the caste group in both the constituencies,” said Mritunjay Yadav, the RJD’s state spokesperson. “He has filled in the vacuum of Lalu Prasad and gained acceptability as a youth leader in the party,” he added.

First Published: Mar 15, 2018 08:11 IST