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Uttar Pradesh, Bihar by-election results shock BJP, give Opposition a shot in the arm

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.

india Updated: Mar 15, 2018 08:55 IST
Prashant Jha
Prashant Jha
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
Gorakhpur bypoll results,Phulpur bypoll results,Jehanabad bypoll results
Samajwadi Party supporters celebrate the win in Phulpur and Gorakhpur bypolls, in front of the party office in Lucknow on Wednesday.(PTI Photo)

Exactly a year after it swept to power in Uttar Pradesh, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) on Wednesday suffered a major political setback, losing by-elections in Gorakhpur and Phulpur. The Samajwadi Party (SP), with the support of its foe-turned-friend, the Bhaujan Samaj Party (BSP), won Lok Sabha seats vacated by chief minister Yogi Adityanath and deputy CM Keshav Prasad Maurya.

The BJP-Janata Dal (United) alliance also lost the Lok Sabha seat of Araria and the Jehanabad assembly constituency in Bihar, while winning the Bhabua assembly seat. Even as its supremo Lalu Prasad remains in jail, the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) won the two seats.

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

The verdict was unambiguous and spelled a reversal of fortunes in UP. The BJP lost Phulpur, which it had won by over 300,000 votes in 2014, by close to 60,000 votes. It lost Gorakhpur, which it had retained since 1991 and won by 300,000 votes four years ago, by over 20,000 votes. The RJD retained Araria by 60,000 votes.

CM Adityanath called the outcome ”unexpected” and said the party would review the shortcomings. “We admit that we hadn’t estimated that together, with BSP support, SP candidates would be able to win so many votes,” said deputy chief minister Maurya.

A state BJP functionary primarily blamed the defeats on two factors -- poor candidate selection and the formidable social coalition of OBCs, Dalits and Muslims that the SP was able to weave together. “To add to it, our own voters were demotivated and did not turn up. Something has gone wrong. But we have a year to make up,” he said.

Even as the BJP has expanded across the country after 2014, party leaders have continued to see UP and Bihar as the core belt, essential for success in 2019. “From now on, all focus will be on Lucknow and Patna.”

A year after the devastating defeat in the UP polls, the bypolls marked the return of SP’s Akhilesh Yadav to the centre stage of UP politics. Yadav acknowledged the support of Mayawati -- and even called on her late on Wednesday evening in Lucknow. The election formally buried the bitter acrimony of the past two decades between the two parties. Yadav alleged that the CM ”mocked the Constitution of India” and attributed the outcome to BJP’s “misgovernance”. But while avoiding making a commitment on alliances the 2019 election, he said that the election had given a message and direction to national politics.

The Congress lost both seats in UP, but party president Rahul Gandhi said that verdict reflected people’s anger against the BJP. Trinamool Congress leader and West Bengal CM Mamata Banerjee hailed it as a “great victory”.

WHAT THE RESULTS MEAN FOR:
Akhilesh Yadav
The biggest winner of Wednesday’s result is SP boss Akhilesh Yadav, who cleverly stitched together wider caste alliances that went beyond the party’s traditional vote bank. In effect, he now gives opposition parties hope
Mayawati
The BSP boss has emerged as the other winner despite not contesting. Her support to an arch-rival helped swing considerable Dalit votes, putting her back on the political map after major electoral losses
Yogi Adityanath
The defeat is a blow for the CM in his first major test since he took office. It erodes his political capital, could encourage dissension, and is a reminder that he needs to get his governance and social arithmetic right
Tejashwi Yadav
Despite being dumped from power by Nitish Kumar and Lalu being in jail, RJD’s win suggests it has been able to retain core vote. The bypolls also mark the emergence of Tejashwi as RJD’s star campaigner

First Published: Mar 14, 2018 23:18 IST