Gorakhpur, Phulpur & Araria Show An Acceleration in BJP’s Downfall
Cracks were all too visible. The first clear sign of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) losing the script in politically significant Uttar Pradesh came to the fore when results of the civic poll were announced in December.
Nearly 3.4 crore voters, roughly 20% of all voters of the state, were asked to elect 652 heads of three-tier urban local bodies. The BJP could win 184 of the 652 seats on offer. The winning percentage, therefore, stood at a very modest 28%. What is more, for the posts of nagar panchayat heads in semi-urban areas, the BJP could win a mere 100 of the 438 seats on offer, with a success rate of just 23%.
The BJP’s vote share was close to 30 percent, down 10 percent from the lofty levels obtained in the 2014 Lok Sabha and 2017 assembly elections. While the BJP did well in large urban centres, the performance dipped considerably in areas closer to the countryside.
However, BJP’s spin doctors and friendly press projected the verdict as a landslide for the saffron party. It was anything but a landslide, creating a sense of complacency, perhaps, among leaders and workers.
BJP’s Triple Headache
- Aggressive Hindutva’s appeal is diminishing.
And Gorakhpur loss shows that:
- Modi magic seems to be up against strong anti-incumbency.
- All-weather alliance in politically significant Bihar has hit a speedbreaker.
Gorakhpur Has Been a Laboratory of Hindutva
Wednesday’s results have shown that the slide has only accelerated now. And let us remember that Gorakhpur and Phulpur are no ordinary Lok Sabha seats.
Gorakhpur has elected a BJP leader in all six Lok Sabha elections since 1991. UP Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath has represented that constituency for five consecutive terms beginning in 1998. And heads of Gorakhnath Peeth (Adityanath and his predecessors) have won the seat 10 out of 17 times since Independence. Gorakhpur, a laboratory of aggressive Hindutva, therefore has been one of safest seats for the BJP in almost all elections.
Modi Magic Worked in Places Where the BJP Had Limited Presence
Phulpur, on the other hand, was an example of how the Modi magic could decisively tilt the balance in favour of the BJP in places where the saffron party had limited presence. Phulpur has had a history of electing non-BJP leaders in all elections except in 2014. While it was a Congress stronghold till the 1980s, the Mandalisation of politics in the Hindi heartland saw the ascendance of the Samajwadi Party in the constituency once held by former Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru.
The Modi wave, however, ensured the victory of Keshav Prasad Maurya, now the deputy chief minister of UP, in the 2014 general election.
Does a loss of nearly 3.5 lakh votes since then mean that the Modi magic is diminishing?
Has The Nitish-BJP Combo Ceased to be as Formidable As It Once Was?
Araria, a Lok Sabha constituency in neighbouring Bihar, has been a stronghold of the BJP whenever it has fought the election in alliance with Nitish Kumar’s Janata Dal (United). Despite the social equation favouring Lalu Prasad’s Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) as Muslims and Yadavs constitute nearly 50 percent of the population in the area, RJD candidates lost four of the five recent Lok Sabha elections here.
Nitish Kumar’s perceived secular credentials used to ensure that the RJD’s so-called Muslim-Yadav combination would not work. A victory for RJD here means that the seemingly formidable alliance of the JD (U) and the BJP is not all that formidable now. And the RJD’s MY combination seems to be back to its winning ways.
Is Anti-Incumbency Mood Setting in?
There are three clear messages coming out of the bypoll results.
First, there is a fatigue among the people over the aggressive espousal of Hindutva in all its variants. A loss for the BJP in Gorakhpur makes that loud and clear.
Two, the kind of Modi wave we witnessed in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections seems to be sliding downhill, at least in areas where the people have had first-hand experience of how BJP governments perform. The message from Phulpur is precisely that.
And a loss in Araria means that the BJP’s tried and tested allies, the JD(U) in this case, may not bring as much value to the table as it used to do in the past.