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By-poll blues for the saffron party

BJP suffered embarrassing defeat in their own bastion, Gorakhpur and Phulpur, when two arch rivals, SP and BSP, put up a joint fight. Will it harbinger a bigger Muslim-Dalit alliance in 2019?

The bypoll results were a shocker for the BJP. They lost two seats in their bastion, that of Gorakhpur—a seat that was represented by chief minister Yogi Adityanath for five successive terms and Phulpur—that was represented by deputy chief minister Keshab Prasad Maurya.

These were the safest seats for the BJP as in the last elections they secured more than half of the votes. In the bypolls, Samajwadi Party (SP)-Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), together reached the half-mark, while the BJP had to be content with 40 per cent of the votes. That’s a major turnaround. In addition, RJD retaining the Araria Lok Sabha seat is a setback for the JD(U)-BJP alliance in Bihar.

These three seats will not change the fate of the incumbent Narendra Modi government at the Centre, or the Yogi government in the state of Uttar Pradesh (UP). It will, for sure, will have bearing on the morale of the party, which is on a winning streak pan-India. With the victory in Tripura, the BJP or BJP alliances rule 22 states.  Losing stronghold in a politically important state like UP, where nearly one-third of MPs come from, will cause some serious introspection within BJP, as they cannot take victory in 2019 general elections for granted.

 

What is also significant is that a joint opposition can pose a serious challenge to the BJP’s political dominance. In UP, for these two seats, arch-rivals SP and BSP joined hands to defeat BJP, burying their age-old rivalry, at least for the time being. The initial experiment proved to be a big success. “Jo sarkaar janta ko dukh deti hai, janta usko sahi jawaab deti hai,” he said. “Acche din toh aaye nahi, janta ek ho gayi aur BJP ke bure din laane ka kaam kiya.” (A government which gives pain to the people gets a fitting response from the people. Good days never dawned for the people and so bad days have started for the BJP), SP chief Akhilesh Yadav reacted. Besides BJP’s misgovernance, he gave credit for this victory to Mayawati’s support.

 

However, a win in the bypolls is no indication of things to follow in the general elections next year if past experiences are of any indication but, one thing is for sure, BSP was able to transfer its support base to SP that resulted in the victory. The real significance of this victory is the possibility of a bigger alliance between the Dalit and Muslims communities has become apparent. These two communities each are about 17 per cent of the population, known to vote decisively and en bloc, feel marginalised under BJP’s rule. If the joint opposition in the next year’s general election is able to galvanise support against BJP and in their favour, can give BJP a run for its money.

 

Though BJP failed to retain any of the two seats, the bigger problem lies ahead for the Congress party, which is the main opposition party,:all its candidate lost their deposits. The grand old party of India has failed again to make any inroads in the most populous state in the country. That’s bad news, at best, they will have to play second fiddle to a regional party like SP or BSP.

Samajwadi party workers celebrate their party success in Phulpur by-election, in Allahabad on Wednesday. PTI

The results also show BJP’s defeat is not necessarily Congress’ victory. The other way of looking at the result is that though BJP failed to consolidated Hindu votes in its favour despite rhetoric of nationalism, patriotism, love jihad and ghar-vapasi. In the process, they cemented Muslim, and now it seems Dalit, votes against itself.

BJP has everything to lose, they are in power in 22 states, while the Congress is all to gain, as they have been shunted out of power in all states but three—Punjab, Karnataka and Pondicherry. As far as Dalit community is concerned, they are not happy, despite Ram Nath Kovind, a Dalit, elevation as the country’s president last year sent a strong message to the community.

Lately, there were certain controversies where Dalits, like Muslims, were dubbed as anti-national. Like on the first day of this year, a Dalit congregation at Bhima-Koregaon in Pune, to commemorate the battle between the British Army’s Mahar regiment, which comprised of Dalits, and the Peshwa’s army. The event was an assertion of Dalit identity, which was done by celebrating the defeat of Peshwas at the hands of the British. The Dalit community see it as their affirmation against the Marathas, an upper-caste community that has dominated the socio-political landscape of the region like no other community. The gathering was attacked that resulted in a flare up. FIR was registered against Milind Ekbote of Samast Hindu Aghadi and Sambhaji Bhide of Shiv Pratishthan Hindustan, for orchestrating the violence.

The Dalit MLA from Gujarat, Jignesh Mewani, who’s fast emerging as a young Dalit leader with pan-India appeal, attacked the prime minister for being silent on the issue. “Why is PM Modi, who is claiming to be an Ambedkarite, silent? He must clarify his position on whether Dalits have the right to hold peaceful rallies,” he demanded. Mevani came to the limelight in July 2016, when he led the agitation of Una Dalit flogging—four Dalit men skinning the carcasses of a dead cow in Mota Samadhiyala village were beaten by members of a cow protection group—and was accused of inciting violence here. In Gujarat, the home state of Prime Minister Modi, BJP won in the last year’s assembly elections with a truncated mandate, and vote patterns show a shift against the BJP with Dalits and other marginalised sections voting against the party.

BJP must ponder, their political dominance has made arch-enemy friends. Yogi Adityanath blamed ‘overconfidence’ for the defeat, not just the SP-BSP alliance. As someone rightly said, let’s not be overconfident, we still have to count votes. There’s still a year to go for the general elections, and a lot can happen in a year.