Despite losing the 2022 Uttar Pradesh Assembly elections to the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the Akhilesh Yadav-led Samajwadi Party had been consoling itself with its "satisfactory" performance in the polls. However, its losses in the Rampur and Azamgarh Lok Sbha bypolls have come as a major blow to the party.
Let's turn our focus to Rampur first.
In Rampur, the BJP's candidate Ghanshyam Lodhi won by a margin of around 42,000 votes against SP candidate Asim Raja.
What is interesting about the election is that both Lodhi and Raja are considered to be proteges of SP veteran Azam Khan.
Lodhi has, however, been known for changing loyalties. He started his political career with the BJP, and then went on to joining the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and Rashtriya Kranti Dal of Kalyan Singh. He then joined the SP, before returning to the BJP's fold.
But the pertinent question is: How was Khan bested by his own protégé? Why did Khan's campaign not produce the desired results? Or did the "double-engine" plank of the Yogi Adityanath-led BJP in the state work in its favour?
Transfer of BSP Votes
The transfer of votes from the BSP is touted to be the main reason behind the BJP's spectacular win in Rampur. The SP and the BSP had fought the 2019 Lok Sabha election in an alliance, and Khan himself was declared the candidate for the seat in that contest, which he won comfortably.
Though the BSP did not field any candidates in the bypolls, it also did not join hands with the SP. It seems that Khan managed to obtain Muslim votes of the BSP, but lost Dalit votes to the BJP.
BJP Placed Its Bets on an OBC Candidate
Khan and his son won their respective Assembly seats, Suar and Rampur respectively, earlier this year even though Khan senior fought the election whilst being behind bars. Azam Khan resigned from his Lok Sabha seat following the Assembly win, necessitating the bypoll. However, despite extensive campaigning by Khan, Raja could not win the Lok Sabha seat in the bypolls.
It seems that Azam Khan's spell in Rampur has been broken with this defeat. Moreover, the BJP tactfully placed its bets on an OBC (Other Backward Classes) candidate. The OBC vote bank is traditionally believed to be in the favour of the SP.
Further, Congress leader and erstwhile nawab of Rampur, Kazim Ali Khan openly supported the BJP in the election. In the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, Kazim got 1.5 lakh votes on a Congress ticket. It is believed that he was able to transfer a huge part of this support base to the saffron party.
Kazim is a known rival of Azam Khan. The Rampur constituency has witnessed a feud between the two for decades.
Further, the ruling BJP did not leave any stone unturned to win the Rampur bypoll. Sixteen of the party's ministers camped in Rampur ahead of the election.
On the other hand, SP chief Akhilesh Yadav did not visit Rampur to campaign. Azam Khan was the only major SP leader who campaigned on the seat.
The Azamgarh Bypoll
The SP was struck by lightning as it lost its bastion of Azamgarh to the BJP.
The saffron party's candidate and Bhojpuri star Dinesh Lal Yadav 'Nirahua' won a comfortable majority in the seat, and defeated the SP candidate and Akhilesh's cousin Dharmendra Yadav by more than 10,000 votes.
In 2019, both Azamgarh and Rampur were won by the SP.
Let's take a look at six reasons why the SP was defeated in Azamgarh.
Akhilesh Yadav was nowhere to be seen on the campaign trail, having not even once held a campaign in favour of his cousin in the seat. On the other hand, UP Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath campaigned actively in Azamgarh.
BSP candidate Shah Alam (Guddu Jamali) cut into the minority votes of the SP. Moreover, non-Muslim votes of the BSP were transferred to the BJP, as was witnessed in the Assembly elections held earlier this year.
The BJP has been expanding its vote base in Azamgarh over the last few elections. Hence, the party's candidate also gained a higher vote share in the bypoll as compared to the previous elections.
Both the SP and the BJP fielded Yadav candidates for the poll, thus resulting in a division of their votes, the core vote bank of the SP.
The voter turnout remained low at 49 percent. One of the reasons behind such a poor turnout was that SP voters were not too enthusiastic about the bypoll, which adversely impacted the prospects of Dharmendra Yadav. Also, voters filed complaints in several places, saying that their names were missing from the voter list despite the fact that they voted in the same Assembly constituency in the last poll.
Dharmendra Yadav was declared the SP's candidate for the seat on the last day of nominations. The BJP and the BSP had declared their candidates much earlier. The confusion over the party's candidate among the top leadership of the SP sent negative messages to grassroot workers.
(This article was translated from Hindi by Arvind Singh.)