By Neerja Chowdhury
In mid-1995, a senior BJP leader, in a private conversation, had asked whether there was even an outside chance of Samajwadi Party (SP) and Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) getting together in the 2017 Uttar Pradesh elections. Only then, he had said, could his party be stopped from coming to power in Lucknow.
That question had seemed surprising, even ridiculous, at the time, given Mayawati’s widely known hatred of SP after the infamous incident in June 1995 when the BSP leader was forced to spend hours in a guesthouse while SP goons threatened her from outside. But the BJP leader’s old fear has now come true. Wednesday’s UP by-election results have shown that SP and BSP workers can work together effectively at the ground level, when push comes to shove, as they did after the 2017 assembly polls. Billed by Mayawati only as an ‘agreement’ to test the waters, this teaming up may well become an ‘alliance’ for 2019.
This ‘agreement’ has pretty much undone the victories of a margin of over three lakh votes of both chief minister Yogi Adityanath and deputy chief minister Keshav Prasad Maurya. Actually, the victory belongs to BSP workers, who went from door to door canvassing for SP candidates in the two constituencies of Gorakhpur and Phulpur. The ‘Bhua-Bhatija’ (aunt-nephew) of Mayawati and Akhilesh Yadav did not campaign jointly in these bypolls. That Adityanath, an icon in the Gorakhpur region for the last 25 years, should lose his home constituency that he has won for five consecutive terms — and that too only a year after BJP’s 325-seat assembly ‘sweep’ —is no small message coming from the UP bypolls.
There are two states where opposition unity can upset the BJP applecart for 2019: UP and Maharashtra. In Maharashtra, Shiv Sena has already declared that it is parting BJP’s company before the Lok Sabha polls. The entire opposition putting its weight behind the 180-km-long march by 35,000-odd farmers in Maharashtra last week had its own story to tell. Had BJP won only 40-45 seats from UP in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, instead of notching up 73 seats, it would not have hit the 282 majority figure nationwide.
The Bihar story is no less impressive. Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) has retained the Araria Lok Sabha and Jehanabad assembly seats. But these are significant victories, as they have come about without Nitish Kumar’s Janata Dal (United) on RJD’s side — and with Lalu Prasad Yadav actually in jail.
The Bihar bypolls have thrown up a new political star in Tejashwi Yadav who led the campaign from the front. It has also shown a growing sympathy for Lalu Yadav and his party, possibly indicating diminishing returns for BJP’s ‘war against corruption’, which could be perceived as selectively targeting those opposed to BJP.
Congress has not covered itself with glory. It was surprising that even as Sonia Gandhi hosted a dinner for 20 opposition parties with the aim of bringing them together to take on BJP, Congress fielded its own candidates in Phulpur and Gorakhpur instead of making common cause with SP-BSP. Did Congress hope to provide some nuisance value to SP and BSP, so that it could bargain hard for more Lok Sabha seats in 2019? The trouble is that unlike the regional parties, which have clear caste votebanks, Congress has neither credibility nor the ‘caste votes’ in UP and Bihar.
As for BJP, which will now undoubtedly put ‘correctives’ in place, it will have to study the extent to which the extreme right-wing groups associated with it have damaged its credibility in UP and Bihar. Are people tired of the politics of cow vigilantes, anti-‘love jihad’ groups, the polarisation and disruption and violence that have accompanied these forces, and want the Adityanath administration — and, for that matter, the Modi dispensation — to get on with governance and development they had promised?
The Party’s Begun
Bypolls 2018 are also one more signal that it is ‘regional party India’ that may put up a formidable fight against BJP in 2019, barring in Gujarat and a few states in the Hindi heartland, where there will be a direct fight between BJP and Congress. These victories will give new heart to an otherwise demoralised opposition. But the opposition parties would do well to guard against arrogance. Or the view that things will now gravitate automatically ‘towards their direction’.
Views expressed above are the author’s own.
Source: Economic Times