'Overconfidence' Is Not What's to Blame for BJP's Defeat in UP By-Polls

The party fought hard, had a good organisational machinery and stuck to its core plank of Hindutva, but ignored issues which affect common people.

The defeat of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the Gorakhpur and Phulpur by-polls has shocked not only its leaders but also many others in the country. Several reasons are being floated for the saffron party’s defeat.

While the state chief minister Adityanath blamed it on ‘overconfidence’ and the ‘rajnitik saudebazi (political deal)’ between the Samajwadi Party and Bahujan Samaj Party, BJP leaders at the party’s state office unofficially put the onus on the ‘non-serious’ attitude of the party in the by-polls. Some even claimed that the top leadership failed to do their bit.

One of the theories being floated is that the party did not take the polls seriously. This, however, is a flimsy theory, since the BJP knew quite well that losing Gorakhpur and Phulpur within one year of sweeping the assembly elections would have an adverse effect on the perception of invincibility that the party has cultivated.

More importantly, the fallout of this could impact the Midas touch of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Moreover, these were seats vacated by none other than the incumbent chief minister and his deputy, respectively.

Here is what breaks these myths. Adityanath held 17 rallies, which included 12 rallies in Gorakhpur and five rallies in Phulpur. Besides this, after the by-polls were announced, four karyakarta sammelans (worker workshops) were held in Gorakhpur, all of which the chief minister attended.

In Gorakhpur, at least 14 ministers, eight MPs and ten MLAs campaigned constantly. The main ministers included Dharampal Singh, Surya Pratap Shahi, Swami Prasad Maurya, Dara Singh Chauhan, Anupama Jaiswal and Sidharth Nath Singh. Not just the BJP’s state president Mahendra Nath Pandey but also the organisation’s secretary, Sunil Bansal – who was credited for the BJP’s success last year – visited Gorakhpur. Union minister Shiv Pratap Shukla and Niranjan Jyoti also visited the city.

In the case of Phulpur – which was vacated by deputy chief minister Keshav Prasad Maurya – Union ministers Piyush Goyal, Anupriya Patel, Santosh Gangwar, along with ten other ministers, seven MLAs and four MPs campaigned for the BJP. The main ministers from the Adityanath cabinet who helped with campaigning included Sidharth Nath Singh, Reeta Joshi, Nand Gopal Nandi, Ashutosh Tandon, Swatantra Deo Singh and others.

At the organisational level, Gorakhpur was divided into 182 sectors and Phulpur into 227 sectors. In each sector, the BJP appointed one of its leaders to monitor things at the booth level.

Hence, the theory that the BJP did not work hard enough does not hold much ground.

Another theory going around is that a low voter turnout led to the party’s defeat. The polling, as reported, was 47.45% in Gorakhpur and 38% in Gorakhpur. But BJP had won Gorakhpur in 2009 when the polling percentage was only 44.27%. This may be termed low but it is a general trend in the state that by-poll voting percentage is always lesser than in the general polls.

One, however, can say that the by-polls do not have an immediate effect on the government – voters who are non-residents do not turn up. Thus, there is lack of enthusiasm among the public.

But any theory put forward by the BJP does not negate the fact that many of the saffron party’s own workers did not come out to vote.

A close analysis shows that the BJP took a lead in the Gorakhpur urban assembly segment by a margin of 24,577 votes when in 2017, it had won the seat by a margin of 60,370 votes. In the Pipraich assembly segment where the saffron party led by a mere 243 votes, it had won by 12,809 votes in 2017.

In Gorakhpur, BJP lost from Gorakhpur rural, Campierganj and Sahjanwa assembly segments – the seats which it had won in 2017 by a substantial margin. Similarly, in Phulpur, it lost Soraon, Phaphamau and Phulpur assembly seats in the by-polls. In short, from these two parliamentary seats, BJP won only four assembly segments out of ten.

One also cannot state that the BJP drifted from its Hindutva agenda. During the elections, several leaders including the chief minister tried hard to polarise the electorate. From Adityanath’s statement that he does not celebrate Eid to him even invoking ‘Aurangzeb rule’ during a meeting at Gorakhpur, BJP made sure to stick to its line.

Despite its criticism of other parties, the saffron party took care of getting caste equations in its favour. For example, Uma Shanker Nishad, who was recently elected chairman of the local body in Sahjanwa assembly seat of Gorakhpur, was given enough prominence with an eye on Nishad votes in Gorakhpur.

Similarly, the party is peddling the line that Muslims voted to defeat the BJP in an attempt to further polarise the electorate on religious lines. But the BJP already knew that it did not have the Muslim vote. According to many reports, it was the BJP which allegedly fielded the mafia-turned-politician Atiq Ahmed from Phulpur as an independent candidate to divide the Muslim vote. Although Ahmed got nearly 50,000 votes, a majority of Muslims supported the SP-BSP alliance. In the Phulpur assembly, which has a sizeable Muslim population, Ahmed got only 5,442 votes while the SP polled nearly 99,960 votes.

There may be many other theories, but the harsh reality for the BJP is that people just did not vote for them.

The party fought hard, had a good organisational machinery and stuck to the core issue of Hindutva, but ignored issues which affect common people, like the spiralling prices of construction material which is necessary to even construct a two-room house and the lack of development projects on the ground.

The BJP, while focusing on the misdeeds of the previous regime, failed to deliver on the social sector, which led to the disenchantment of the voters.

Mohammad Faisal is a freelance journalist.