In the normal course of politics, by-elections generate little interest. But when the results of two bypolls in eastern Uttar Pradesh were declared in March last year, they shocked Indian political watchers. In Gorakhpur and Phulpur, traditionally bitter rivals Samajwadi Party (SP) and Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) buried the hatchet and came together to snatch from the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) two seats long known as party bastions – Gorakhpur was a seat held by chief minister Yogi Adityanath for five consecutive terms. In elections in western UP’s Kairana later that year, the parties firmed up the alliance, adding the Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD) to the mix.Many called it an alliance of survival. After all, the SP and the BSP had been swept aside by the BJP in state polls in 2017, and the latter had failed to win a single Lok Sabha seat in 2014. But in their coming together, the two parties rekindled the idea of a grand Opposition alliance – a mahagathbandhan – that could take on the BJP. The idea was sought to be replicated across the country with varying levels of success. On paper, the alliance was formidable. The SP had the solid support of the Muslims and the Yadav caste, the largest of the other backward class (OBC) groups in the state that was smarting under the Adityanath rule, while the BSP’s vote base among the Jatavs, the largest of the scheduled castes, had remained unwavering even in 2014. These three groups made up roughly 35-40% of the state’s population, and in 50-plus seats in the state, the opposition alliance had a higher vote share than that of the BJP in 2014. Add to it the RLD’s base among the Jats in western UP, and strategists thought they had the perfect answer to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s chemistry with the electorate: Arithmetic. But that arithmetic did not add up on Thursday as the BJP comfortably defeated the SP-BSP-RLD alliance across all regions of the state, including in Gorakhpur, Phulpur and Kairana. Across the state, the BJP was poised to win 62 seats till 9pm, while the opposition alliance was able to win just 15. In every region – western UP, central UP, eastern UP, Bundelkhand – the BJP outperformed the alliance. Almost half of the BJP’s seats were won by a margin of more than 100,000 seats, indicating the scale of the saffron surge in the state and the extent to which Modi was able to swing the election away from cold numbers that the Opposition was relying on. Still, the alliance helped the BSP – which fought 38 seats – to rise to 10 seats after winning nothing in 2014. Most of its victories came from its traditional stronghold of western UP, such as Bijnor, Ambedkar Nagar and Amroha, where the concentration of the Jatav vote is the largest but the party was unable to do well in the rest of the state.The SP faced reverses in some of the Yadav pocket boroughs – such as Kannauj where former chief minister Akhilesh Yadav’s wife Dimple Yadav was trailing by 8,888 votes at 9pm, and remained set to win five seats. “As a party with strong democratic credentials, we respect the mandate given by the people with all humility and grace. During elections, we worked hard and raised genuine issues concerning the people. The results have certainly made us think and introspect. We will learn lessons from this mandate and continue working and raising the issues of people,” said SP spokesperson Abdul Hafiz Gandhi. The alliance was pummelled in the Bundelkhand region, which has four seats and lags in development and infrastructure. The alliance was unable to capitalise on voter discontent around water scarcity and backwardness, and couldn’t win a single seat. In the central UP region, with a number of prestigious seats such as Lucknow, Kanpur and Unnao, the alliance again came up nought. This was a region where Yadav voters were seen to have held sway but the BJP appeared to have been successful in building a coalition of upper castes, non-Yadav OBC castes and non-Jatav Dalit castes. The RLD, which was seeking to rebuild former prime minister Chaudhary Charan Singh’s legacy and forge an alliance between Muslims and Jats on the common link of their farming occupation, also failed. In Mathura, actor Hema Malini won by more than 200,000 votes. Experts said the results were a reflection of the popularity of Modi. “Modi’s charisma and chemistry, the issues of nationalism and national security, and schemes like Ujjwala and Saubhagya worked. People negated caste politics. The gathbandhan lacked a common ideology and its mainstay was the perceived caste numbers,” said Prof SK Dwivedi, a political analyst and retired head of the department of political science, Lucknow University.