We are only as strong as we are united, as weak as we are divided.
Professor Dumbledore, from JK Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, has been proven right for the third time in Uttar Pradesh after a united Opposition defeated the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the Kairana bypoll on 31 May.
Four years ago, the saffron party won the communally volatile Lok Sabha seat with over two lakh votes. Cut to 2018, the BJP lost by a margin of almost 50,000 votes to Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD) candidate Tabassum Hassan. The BJP’s loss resulted in Uttar Pradesh getting its first Muslim MP.
So what went wrong for the BJP in Kairana? Here’s a list:
1. Opposition’s “Hum Saath Saath Hain” Moment
The Samajwadi Party (SP) – considered popular among Muslims in the state – fielded Hassan on an RLD ticket. Her candidature was backed by the Congress and the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP).
This alliance comes days after the SP, backed by the BSP, managed to overthrow the BJP in bypolls in CM Yogi Adityanath’s bastion Gorakhpur and in Phulpur earlier this year.
Up against Hassan was the BJP’s Mriganka Singh, daughter of Hukum Singh – the sitting MP whose death necessitated the bypoll. Despite the expected sympathy factor for Mriganka, a united Opposition defeated the BJP by a significant margin.
2. Polarisation Bids Fell Flat
Strained ties between the Jat and Muslim communities in western Uttar Pradesh, spurred by the 2013 riots in Muzaffarnagar, were fractured further when in 2016, the then BJP MP from Kairana, Hukum Singh, alleged that Muslims had forced over 250 Hindu families out of the area. Later, Singh said that the supposed “exodus” was not communal but migratory in nature; but the alleged “Kairana exodus” and other polarising tactics worked, and the BJP won Uttar Pradesh in 2017.
With Hassan, a Muslim candidate in the fray, the Opposition alliance feared that the BJP would convert the election into a Hindu-Muslim battle; and to steer clear of further polarisation, no leader from the SP, the Congress or the BSP in Kairana campaigned ahead of the bypoll.
While the campaign was largely led by RLD chief Ajit Singh’s son Jayant Chaudhary in the Jat-dominated areas, Hassan took charge of campaigning in Muslim-dominated areas. The party refrained from advertising her in Chaudhary’s community, and vice versa.
In contrast, Adityanath campaigned in Kairana by trying to rake up communal sentiments. During a rally on 23 May, he attacked Akhilesh Yadav over the 2013 riots, saying: “The SP chief doesn't have the courage to come here and campaign. His hands are stained with the blood of Muzaffarnagar riot victims”.
To further consolidate Hindu votes, the BJP played another communal card by trying to whip up a controversy over a portrait of Muhammad Ali Jinnah in Aligarh University, days before the bypoll. But nothing worked. This time around, the polarising tactics that once proved profitable, backfired for the BJP.
3. Jinnah Vs ‘Ganna’
The agrarian distress of the debt-ridden sugarcane farmers has been a long-standing election issue in western Uttar Pradesh, with the BJP in 2011 promising to urgently address the issue of non-payment. After the Aligarh university controversy, Jayant Chaudhury said “Jinnah vs ganna” would determine the election.
The trends show that the Jats, who had backed the BJP massively in the 2014 and 2017 elections, were ready to vote against the the party this time and go with the RLD, who they had dumped for reportedly being sympathetic towards the Muslim community after the 2013 riots.
Though Prime Minister Narendra Modi at a rally in the nearby Baghpat just one day before the poll reiterated the party’s promise to resolve the sugarcane crisis in the belt, the electoral mandate is proof that voters felt disappointed in the BJP.
4. BJP’s Downfall in Bypolls
Although the BJP came to power with a thumping majority in the 2014 elections, the graph for the party in the bypolls has gone downhill ever since. The BJP has managed to retain only five of the 13 Lok Sabha seats where it was in power. No new Lok Sabha seat has been added to its tally.
(With inputs from Quint Hindi)