Unfavourable arithmetic aside, BJP must learn these lessons from UP by-polls

In a shock result, Samajwadi Party is set to win the by-poll in the traditional BJP stronghold and Yogi Adityanath’s erstwhile Parliamentary constituency, Gorakhpur. To make matters worse, BJP has lost the other seat in Uttar Pradesh, previously held by KP Maurya, as well. Thus in one shot, the CM and Deputy CM’s constituencies have delivered blows to the BJP.

The alarm bells should have started ringing when the by-polls recorded a low turnout in both the seats in Uttar Pradesh that went into polls. Gorakhpur registered a voter turnout of merely 47.45%. In 2014, Gorakhpur had seen a 54.64% turnout, and in the in the Assembly elections, Gorakhpur Urban had registered a turnout of 50.98% The story is worse off in Phulpur which saw an even lower, 37.39% turnout this time around. It had recorded a 50.20% turnout for the 2014 Lok Sabha elections. Phulpur though is less of a loss for BJP as the seat until 2014 had never been won by the BJP.

The results will come as a huge boost to the opposition ahead of the 2019 general elections. The most obvious reasons for the defeat could be the SP-BSP alliance which was tentatively tested for the first time in these by-polls. With results emerging quite favourable towards them, a lot better than even they expected, it may provide the template for a Mahagathbandhan style alliance in Uttar Pradesh, which contributes 80 seats for the Lok Sabha elections.

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The biggest cause of concern for the BJP, however, will be the fact that for the first time since the ascent of Narendra Modi, the consolidation of Hindu votes across all castes, which helped the saffron party reach great heights, appears to have been broken. A Mahagathbandhan in Uttar Pradesh might prove to be difficult to counter and Amit Shah will have to use all the ingenuity at his disposal towards winning a significant number of seats in 2019. Like the last time around, Amit Shah might well end up deciding to park his bus at Uttar Pradesh months before the country goes to polls.

But could the BJP have done better? Possibly.

The low turnouts indicate the BJP’s failure to motivate the voters to go out on poll-day. While it has to be admitted that even the voters do not take by-polls very seriously as they hardly ever affect the grander scheme of things, it is ultimately the duty of the cadre to inspire people to vote for them. The low voter turnout indicates that the cadres either grew complacent after recent electoral triumphs and probably a bit arrogant as well.

The tremendously reputed Panna Pramukhs and the micro level management by the cadres which was credited with victories must now accept its share of the blame. A loss for BJP in a seat Yogi Adityanath has held for two decades on his own cannot be glossed over and makes for some very bad optics.

Coming on the back of BJP’s stunning performance in the North East, the local unit cannot blame “national mood” as well. The loss and the blame for it become highly localised. Selection of candidate must also be scrutinised since the BJP fielded Upendra Shukla, a man belonging to an upper caste, in a constituency dominated by people from backward castes which has proven to be counter-intuitive.

However, drawing out state and nation wide predictions from 2 by-polls which were numerically insignificant may prove fool-hardy. Some opposition cheerleaders are getting overexcited and threatening bureaucrats working for the NDA government, assuming already that the BJP has lost the 2019 general elections. Such people will be well advised to exercise caution for now.

The fact remains that the BJP has scored thunderous victories across the country in Assembly elections. The by-polls, if anything, could prove to be mere blip on the radar. The populace is known to vote differently when the stakes are high. These by-polls were nothing more than a show of prestige as a loss would not impact any Government anywhere.

Having said that, the local BJP set-up must introspect and look into the reasons why the sitting CM and Deputy CMs could not salvage their seats in a by-poll coming just a year after their Government was formed.

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