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

It requires skills for an incumbent to lose a by-election; it requires even greater skills to lose if by-elections are in seats held by the CM and deputy CM; and, it requires extraordinary talent to lose it when you are in charge of both the Centre and state. The BJP achieved precisely this feat

opinion Updated: Mar 14, 2018 23:51 IST
Prashant Jha
Prashant Jha
Hindustan Times
Bypoll results 2018,Bypoll results,Uttar Pradesh bypoll results
Prime Minister Narendra Modi being welcomed by UP governor Ram Naik and CM Yogi Adityanath in Lucknow.(AFP File Photo)

If you needed a sign of both the fragility of politics and robustness of democracy, the by-election results from Uttar Pradesh have just offered it.

Four years ago, the BJP (with an ally) won 73 of the 80 Lok Sabha seats in the state. It made the difference between Narendra Modi leading a messy coalition government and BJP running a majority government on its own. One year ago, the BJP swept the UP assembly polls. It catapulted Yogi Adityanath to the position of chief minister, and left the Opposition defeated and demoralised.

On March 14, it all changed.

It requires skills for an incumbent to lose a by-election, for voters don’t see an incentive to vote for the Opposition when the government won’t change. It requires even greater skill to lose if the by-elections are in seats held by the chief minister and deputy chief minister, as was the case in Gorakhpur and Phulpur. And it requires extraordinary talent to lose it when you are in charge of both the central and state governments.

Yet, the BJP achieved precisely this feat.

There are many possible explanations for the defeat. One, the Bahujan Samaj Party’s support for the Samajwadi Party candidate changed the political arithmetic; the anti-BJP votes did not get fragmented. Two, it created a formidable social alliance in both seats. In Gorakhpur, Yadavs, Muslims, Nishads and Dalits came together; in Phulpur, a substantial section of OBC (both Yadav and non-Yadav), Dalit and Muslim votes consolidated. Three, the BJP’s candidate selection did not work. In Phulpur, the candidate was an outsider; in Gorakhpur, he was not from the Gorakhnath temple.

But while these are important variables, there is bigger message from the election: the ‘hawa’, wave, is over.

The BJP’s success in both the 2014 and 2017 elections was based on overcoming local constraints. These were, only half in jest, termed ‘lamp-post’ elections, where even if a lamp-post contested on the lotus symbol, it would win. These were elections where the traditional caste calculus collapsed and the BJP was able to weave together inclusive Hindu social coalitions — of upper castes, OBCs and Dalits. These were elections in which only one man mattered — Narendra Modi. And the Modi hawa swept everything aside.

With the bypoll results, politics has returned to normal in the Hindi heartland.

It shows that micro-caste calculations will now matter. It shows that sustaining wide caste coalitions may not be easy and contradictions between upper castes and OBCs as well as upper castes and Dalits are returning. It shows candidate selection will matter. It shows that the normal rules of anti-incumbency against the state and the central government will play out. It shows that just riding on Modi — or Yogi, who was billed as the man who was now consolidating and capable of delivering UP on his own — may not work.

All of this means that politics has now opened up. The 2019 election is truly open.

prashant.jha1@hindustantimes.com

First Published: Mar 14, 2018 19:23 IST