How small events can initiate a big change could be seen in the aftereffects of by-elections in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. Results of Phulpur, Gorakhpur in UP and Arariya in Bihar have cemented a much-needed unity among the Opposition parties. Till recently, it appeared to be a difficult proposition to have BSP Chief Mayawati and Samajwadi Party leader Akhilesh Yadav under one umbrella to prevent Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Chanakya Amit Shah from repeating a 2014-like win in 2019. The results of the by-elections showed them the way. They have not only joined hands but also made it clear that they would be part of a larger alliance led by Rahul Gandhi’s Congress in opposing BJP and RSS to power in the 2019 general elections.
The BJP tried to outmanoeuvre the SP and BSP in Rajya Sabha polls held just after the bypolls. The party could engineer cross-voting and the BSP candidate supported by the SP was defeated. The BJP-supported media tried to portray the defeat as the failure of the new alliance of BSP and the SP. It started predicting a collapse of the alliance which was yet to start formally.
However, reacting to the success of BJP in defeating the BSP candidate for Rajya Sabha in Uttar Pradesh, Mayawati said that if BJP thinks that failure of SP leader Akhilesh in ensuring the BSP candidate’s win will make her angry and she will snap the ties with the SP, the saffron party was wrong. She made it clear that the two parties would remain united to oust the BJP from power.
She also made it clear that she had good relations with the Congress and it would remain so. She reminded that her party had been helping out the UPA government during crises.
“The victory of the BJP on the ninth seat, contested by the saffron party with the help of money power, has given the SP an opportunity to expose the communal outfit’s anti-Dalit face. Because of the conspiracy hatched by the BJP against a Dalit getting elected, SP-BSP unity has got strengthened all the more for the Lok Sabha polls,” argued Akhilesh Yadav in an interview to a news agency.
Results in UP and Bihar are not only important for the larger opposition unity, but also for the two parties that have won the elections. It was for the first time that Akhilesh Yadav and RJD’s Tejaswi Yadav fought on their own. For Akhilesh, it was a test case and he had to prove to his family that he could run the party without the support of seniors Mulayam Singh Yadav and Shivapal Yadav. This time, uncle Ramgopal was also not much visible.
Tejaswi was not under any family pressure but he had to prove to the rank and file of the RJD and to the ruling alliance in Bihar led by Nitish Kumar that he is an appropriate replacement for his father Lalu Prasad, who is in jail after being convicted in several cases pertaining to the infamous fodder scam. He had to prove his mettle to the constituency which his father has nursed for over two and half decades. His mature responses after the win also added to the perception that he would make himself a good leader in due course of time.
Both the young leaders are going to play crucial roles in 2019. They have pledged an unconditional support to Congress in the coming Lok Sabha polls.
“My relations with the Congress are good and will remain so. It is a national party while we are strong here in the state. The preparations for stitching together an alliance are on. The leader will be decided later at an opportune time,“ the SP leader said in an interview with a news agency.
Tejaswi also echoed the same thing in his interview to a news channel. He referred the name of Rahul Gandhi among the probable candidates for the post of prime minister and reiterated his commitment to the broader alliance led by Congress against BJP.
The two bypolls have affected the existing social equations in UP. If we take a look at the social equations in the state, it becomes clear that the results of bye-elections have shown a positive change in favour of the Opposition. The social engineering which the BJP had done in 2014 elections by taking advantage of the division among OBCs on the lines of Yadavs and non-Yadavs is now collapsing. In Gorakhpur, a non-Yadav OBC candidate has won on the ticket of Samajwadi Party. The Nishad community has sizable population in the area. It is for the first time in three decades that a non-BJP candidate has won the elections. The seat was held by Mahanth Awaidyanath of Gorakhnath Math and then by Yogi Adityanath, for over two and half decades.
The local factors that have played a part in elections are also important because they have statewide ramifications. Many children had died of Japanese Encephalitis last year and the Yogi government failed to rise to the occasion. He also did not take any action to meet the future challenges in the health sector which is plagued with infrastructural ills. His budget allocations also did not reflect any willingness to alter the situation in the state. Instead, he chose to prioritise the issues which are meant to consolidate Hindutva support base. He allocated liberally for cow-protection and other similar things.
BJP governments at the Centre and the state have failed to contain unemployment. Problem of unemployment combined with farmers’ distress has affected support base of the party and it has been reflected in the results of bypolls across the country. The same is true for UP.
Here, it is important to note that coming together of BSP and SP is not being properly interpreted. In Gorakhpur, Yogi has been winning elections by grabbing more than 50 per cent of votes. He was doing this in a situation where both SP and BSP were in the fray. So, simply coming together of these parties might not have defeated the BJP. Other reasons like people’s discontent must have played some role in defeating the BJP candidate.
Bypoll results also coincided with important developments in the Opposition camp and they indicate a better situation ahead for it. The meeting called by Sonia Gandhi was attended by most of the major opposition parties and opposition leaders like Sharad Pawar seem to have buried their differences with the Congress, at least for the 2019 elections. Though, the Congress fared very poorly in the bypolls of UP, none in the Opposition camp made it a point to criticize Rahul or his party. They also indicated that the results would not affect future arrangements. However, the results have made it difficult for the Congress to bargain for more seats. It is likely that the party will get seven to eight seats in UP . Majority of seats are likely to go to the BSP and the SP.
A sign of recovery has been spotted in the Left block as well. The CPM’s failure in Tripura had made them vulnerable to political irrelevance caused. The party seems to have taken up the challenge in the right spirit. The Long March of farmers from Nasik to Mumbai sent ripples through the sections of power and media which had started dismissing the left. The All India Kisan Sabha, the peasant front of CPM led this march. The front has successfully mobilized peasants of Rajasthan and forced the state government to announce concessions.
On the other hand, the ruling alliance is facing some deep problems within. The most important among them is the exit of Telugu Desam Party (TDP) of Chandrababu Naidu. The party has not only made an exit but is splitting beans. The letter written to the party by BJP president Amit Shah has received a very harsh reply from Naidu. He has termed the letter as a “bundle of lies”.
The situation in Bihar is also not better. The Hindustan Awami Party led by former chief minister and Nitish Kumar aide Jitan Ram Manjhi has left the alliance. It has joined the Mahagathbandhan led by RJD. The party represents Musahar, the third largest block among Dalits. Lok Janshakti Party leader Ramvilas Paswan is feeling restless. The Lok Samata Party leader and a state minister in the Union cabinet, Upendra Kushwaha, is also not happy and he may join the Mahagathbandhan. He is an avowed opponent of Nitish Kumar and very unlikely to join him in the coming Lok Sabha polls.
The social equations forged by the BJP in two populous states, UP and Bihar, have started crumbling. So, the saffron party is back to its old card of Hindutva. Ram Navami rallies have created tensions in many parts of east and north India. The Hindu-Muslim tension is bound to accelerate in the coming months because PNB bank scam and other scams are eroding the support base of BJP among middle class and it has nothing except resorting to Hindutva. The issue of unemployment is also being raised by different organizations.
Other issues like so-called autonomy to 60 universities may also come up to the fore.
However, the response of the ruling BJP is not in tune with the country’s democratic traditions. The party has ensured that Parliament should not discuss bank scams. The government is in denial mode. It has done nothing to bring back fraudsters Nirav Modi and Mehul Choksi to India. On the other hand, the CBI is being used to hound political opponents. Chandrababu Naidu’s son is the latest victim. Just a month ago, it was Karti Chidambaram. Lalu’s family has been a constant target.
However, Amit Shah is still talking of poll-mathematics. He is not ready to accept the ground reality that the promises have not been fulfilled.
“The BJP lost bypolls as the BSP and SP reached an alliance in the last hour,” he says.