New Delhi: The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) suffered a rude electoral shock in the three Lok Sabha bypolls in Uttar Pradesh (UP) and Bihar.
More worryingly for the BJP is the sub-text of the verdict in UP. It was fashioned on an alliance between the Samajwadi Party (SP) and the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), the two principal opposition parties in the state; implicitly suggesting a political realignment is underway ahead of the 2019 general election.
In Uttar Pradesh, the BJP lost the Lok Sabha bypolls in Gorakhpur and Phulpur, the two Lok Sabha seats which were held by chief minister Yogi Adityanath and deputy chief minister Keshav Prasad Maurya respectively.
A similar setback was witnessed in Bihar’s Araria Lok Sabha bypoll where the BJP candidate lost to Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD). The by-election is important because it is the first since Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar-led Janata Dal (United), or JDU, returned to NDA fold in July last year.
Gorakhpur seat is critical for the BJP because it has been held by the party since 1991 and Adityanath himself has been a five-time MP from the constituency.
“We accept the verdict of the people, this result is unexpected, we will review the shortcomings. I congratulate the winning candidates," Adityanath told news agency ANI.
The electoral loss in Uttar Pradesh comes at a time when the state government under the BJP is poised to complete one year in office on 19 March. The outcome is significant for the BJP not just because both the seats were held by the two most important leaders of the party, but also because its two arch rivals, SP and BSP, came together to contest the by-elections. The NDA had won 73 out of the 80 Lok Sabha seats in Uttar Pradesh in 2014 Lok Sabha elections.
“There are two aspects to the bypoll results. The first is that BJP has a real challenge in 2019 Lok Sabha elections if SP and BSP decide to continue with the alliance and contest against the BJP. The second aspect of the result is that the voting percentage was very low on both the seats, which means that the voters of BJP did not come out to vote for the party. This suggests that there is lack of coordination in the BJP at the grassroots," said a senior BJP leader from Allahabad.
It is after a gap of more than two decades that the SP and BSP have come together to defeat the BJP in Uttar Pradesh, a template that could be retained in the next general election. “The BJP cannot complain about these two seats because both the state government and centre is under BJP rule. The entire strategy of the party needs to be revamped in Uttar Pradesh," said a second BJP leader who is based in Lucknow.
In Bihar’s assembly bypolls, the BJP won Bhabhua seat defeating a Congress candidate whereas the RJD won Jehanabad seat defeating a JDU candidate.
For the RJD, the win in Araria and Jehanabad is significant because it was being fought in the absence of chief Lalu Prasad who is currently in jail in the fodder scam case. The bypolls were seen as a test for Prasad’s son and former deputy chief minister of Bihar, Tejashwi Yadav, who oversaw the campaign.
“The 2019 elections, people are of the view that there should be a Grand Alliance at national level. People in UP want that Mayawati and Akhilesh Yadav should contest together and Congress too should be a part of it," Yadav told reporters on Wednesday.