It takes exceptional skills for an incumbent to lose a by-election. Even more when you are in power in both the Centre and the state- and voters are aware that it would not result in any change on ground. The sudden electoral win for the opposition in UP and Bihar is surely a shot in the arm for an otherwise rattled camp. The icing on the cake is that it came on the first anniversary of the Yogi Adityanath led government in UP.
The outcome was significant for the BJP as both the seats were held by the star campaigners of the party. More importantly, the BJP’s two major arch rivals- the BSP and SP- joined forces to contest the by-elections. SP’s wins in Gorakhpur and Phulpur were mainly credited to its understanding with BSP, which, with its committed following among OBCs and Dalits ensured a verdict against the BJP.
The two parties had earlier teamed up successfully in 1993 to thwart BJP at a time when the ‘Mandir’ factor had not waned. Slogans such as Mile Mulayam, Kanshi Ram, hawa ho gaye Jai Sri Ram which were all rage in the period, seem to be making a comeback- the slogan points out that Mulayam Singh Yadav, leader of the SP and Kanshi Ram, the then leader of the BSP, came together to make Sri Ram (a snide reference to the BJP) irrelevant.
It was in the fateful winter of 1993 when the BJP had to suffer a shocking defeat in the mid-term Assembly elections. BJP too had a slogan, which has since encapsulated itself as an underlying aim of core BJP ideology in the context of the Babri Masjid dispute. The slogan read, Ram Lala hum aaenge, mandir waheen banaaenge (Lord Ram we will be back, will build the temple there itself), a lingering reminder of the simmering communal tensions over the Babri Masjid controversy. Perhaps neither LK Advani, nor his apprentice Kalyan Singh would have ever imagined a reunification of Mulayam and Kanshi Ram, over two decades later.
Heirs to Kanshi Ram and Mulayam – Mayawati and Ahkilesh – came together, at least for the by-elections to Gorakhpur and Phulpur and managed to oust the BJP from its bastions, at a time when it is at the peak of its political power. The unique bua-bhatija (aunt-nephew) combine has managed to stop the Modi wave, that only months ago had swept SP, Congress and the BSP in the UP State Elections.
A tweet by Akhilesh Yadav of the SP thanking Mayawati (BSP) for the poll win.
An insidious masterstroke?
How UP CM Yogi Adityanath went from being an all-powerful Caesar of UP to its Commodus- losing his own parliamentary constituency- is rather surprising. One school of thought suggests that it was another Modi-Shah masterstroke. To understand this, we need to analyse Adityanath’s political profile. He is everything that the Modi-Shah duo consider politically dangerous.
He is assertive.
He is hungry for the spotlight.
Possess his own following.
Is not beholden to the RSS entirely, much like Modi and Shah.
Does not keep a low profile, in deference to Modi and Shah, unlike other BJP Chief Ministers across the country.
Adityanath hasn’t risen from the ranks within the BJP but has been winning the Gorakhpur Lok Sabha seat on his own steam since 1989. He is a product of the Gorakhnath sect, which has its own following and appeal among a huge band of followers. Most importantly and irritatingly to Modi, Yogi does not cocoon his brand of Hindutva in the more benign panache of development and modernity. This would be threatening to both Modi and Shah as anyone with such characteristics would not only have national ambitions, but would also possess the tools for fulfilling such ambitions. Or, at the very least, make life uncomfortable for them.
That Modi and Shah didn’t campaign in Gorakhpur and Phulpur despite the national spotlight on the two by-elections, clearly indicates that they were keen on maintaining a distance from Yogi. But the strategy here cannot be sabotage, UP is too important a prize to be squandered. The aim is perhaps to reduce Yogi’s standing, atleast temporarily, to ensure compliance for the 2019 General Elections. By ensuring a defeat in these bypolls, Modi and Shah seem to have taken a calculated loss so as to avoid losing control of their narrative nationally in 2019. The timing of the bypolls, close on the heels of the North East election victories is also helpful in the narrative. It helps re-assert the image of Modi and Shah as the sure-shot vote winners for the BJP. This sends a clear message to the carders, the RSS and other anti-Modi factions in the BJP that might have been attempting to use Yogi as a pivot for gaining concessions from the Prime Minister. It’s a message of falling in line, a reminder that the BJP faces irrelevance without the face of Modi and the strategy of Shah.
So while the opposition is busy pushing the narrative of an open contest in 2019, Modi and Shah might have ended, atleast for the foreseeable future, a rising undercurrent of ambition within the BJP. While a lot will hinge on the upcoming state elections in Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan, by quelling a potential civil war within the party, maybe half the battle has already been won.
About The Author
Abhay Singh Dhillon is one of the youngest politicians in India and the District General Secretary of the Youth Akali Dal. A highly decorated student of Welham’s School for Boys, Dehradun, Abhay is a multi faceted personality. He possesses extraordinary oratory capabilities and has also addressed a large number of rallies in Punjab. Abhay was recently recognised by the IAYP (International Award for Young People), a thriving youth program which discerns the various hurdles, snags faced by youngsters and professionals.