These results underscore a major flaw in the way that the BJP conducts itself following credible victories in new territories.
Several hours after the dust settled on a rare electoral humiliation of the BJP on Wednesday, a veteran political leader in a private conversation drew attention to an old political slogan — Mile Mulayam-Kanshiram, Hawa ho gaye Jai Shri Ram (Mulayam Singh Yadav and Kanshi Ram have united, and Jai Shri Ram has disappeared). The slogan was a 1993 creation and the occasion was the state Assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh when the BJP’s juggernaut was halted 11 months after the demolition of the Babri Masjid. The verdict generated hope of a revival of secular politics after the Samajwadi Party and Bahujan Samaj Party stitched an unlikely alliance to form a coalition. That famous defeat of the BJP proved that despite the party’s emergence as a pivotal force in UP, it could be defeated if its rivals notched a high score on the Index of Opposition Unity (IOU).
The byelection results from three parliamentary constituencies in UP and Bihar and two Assembly seats in Bihar re-establishes the BJP’s vulnerability in multi-polar states provided that its adversaries sink their differences and work to defeat the saffron party on a set of common programmes. It proved that unless there is a wave situation, as in 2014, the BJP will always struggle. The poll outcome is a major dampener for the BJP and is a fitting answer to belligerent triumphalists in its ranks who either directly flexed muscles on hapless Lenin statues or justified these acts after the BJP’s remarkable victory in Tripura. Besides tempering the mood within the BJP, the byelection results have once again made the roller-coaster ride till 2019 more merrier. Various anti-BJP satraps welcomed the results and this adds to its worries. Barely 10 days ago, K. Chandrasekhar Rao of the Telangana Rashtra Samithi and chief minister of the state revived talk of a Third Front to act as the vanguard of the anti-BJP camp.
These results underscore a major flaw in the way that the BJP conducts itself following credible victories in new territories. Unless this is addressed suitably by the party, the fault can be fatal. Since the famous Narendra Modi-led 2014 victory, the party has repeatedly faltered in aftermath of victories because of excessive exuberance and unabashed arrogance. The parliamentary victory was followed by gains in Haryana and Jharkhand, where the party had not been in power. Even the victory in Maharashtra was after parting ways with old ally Shiv Sena. Moreover, in elections in Jammu and Kashmir, the party did exceedingly well in the Jammu region. Yet within months, the BJP faced an unprecedented rout in the Delhi Assembly elections. This was followed by a crushing defeat in Bihar when Lalu Prasad Yadav and Nitish Kumar forged a mahagathbandhan with the Congress as part of the bandwagon.
Not just defeats in elections, but the BJP displays deficiency in governance in most states where it assumed power. In Gujarat too, party leaders are yet to fill the vacuum caused by Mr Modi’s shift to the Centre and the party escaped by the skin of its teeth. BJP governments in Maharashtra, Haryana, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh have not exactly covered themselves with glory, and face massive anti-incumbencies. More worryingly, the byelection results show that the BJP-JD(U) alliance is not working on the ground in Bihar and Lalu Yadav’s capacity to defeat the BJP while locked up in jail is a sure indication that besides caste consolidation in his favour, people see his conviction as vengeance for standing up to Mr Modi. However, the worst news for the BJP is from UP — this is possibly the first time that both the sitting chief minister and his deputy failed to ensure victories of party candidates from the seats they had vacated.
Furthermore, Gorakhpur is no ordinary seat and is the citadel of the Gorakhnath Math and the BJP for long. Its early leader, Digvijay Nath, introduced the monastic group to politics and was among early champions of the Ram Mandir agitation in 1949. He contested the first Lok Sabha election from the constituency, polling almost 62,000 votes as Hindu Mahasabha candidate. Since then, the seat was the stronghold of the Mahasabha and three of the Math’s chiefs, Digvijay Nath, Avaidyanath and Adityanath, have represented the constituency in the Lok Sabha. In 1989, Avaidyanath joined the BJP and Adityanath held the seat since 1998 till he vacated it last year. After becoming chief minister, Yogi Adityanath spent considerable time in this electoral fortress, even holding the mammoth Deepotsav in Ayodhya on Diwali-eve to be in Gorakhpur on the day of the festival. The defeat here will quell, for the moment, murmurs within the Sangh Parivar of the Yogi being a potential heir to Narendra Modi. A leader who cannot defend or protect his lair is mere hyperbole.
More important, Akhilesh Yadav has declared that the SP-BSP pact will continue for the Kairana parliamentary byelection and beyond. The RJD-Congress-Jitan Manjhi pact in Bihar is reaffirmed, and there is no knowing if Upendra Kushwaha too will cross over. The possibility of state-to-state anti-BJP fronts wherever there are multipolar contests spells trouble for the BJP. Already, evidence is piling of neo-converts to the BJP fold from non-traditional caste groups getting disillusioned and moving back. The BJP’s worries are further accentuated not just by the potential rise in IOU score, but also as
Mr Modi retains two strategies as possible options for the 2019 polls.
On the one hand, fringe forces in the Sangh Parivar are still given a free run, suggesting that Mr Modi retains the option of a platform broadly reflective of Hindutva and ultra-nationalism. On the other hand, Mr Modi has not completely abandoned mentioning good governance and egalitarian policies as evidenced in his government’s last full Budget. The route to growth cannot be laced with social conflict and sooner or later Mr Modi will have to make up his mind over which issue he will give primacy when making a bid for another term. Mr Modi needs not just a feeble wave but another tsunami-type surge to overcome a possible coming together of “Bua-Bhatija” combine. Only then can the BJP overcome the challenge of an united Opposition in specific states.