BJP loses Gorakhpur, Phulpur bypolls; leaders say SP-BSP factor underestimated

In a major political upset, Samajwadi Party (SP) candidates supported by the Bahujan Samaj Party on Wednesday defeated candidates from the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in Lok Sabha by-elections in Uttar Pradesh’s Gorakhpur and Phulpur constituencies. Ahead of the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, the results in the two Lok Sabha seats, vacated by chief minister Yogi Adityanath and deputy chief minister Keshav Prasad Maurya, have further underscored the BJP’s reliance on Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP chief Amit Shah to win elections, BJP leaders admitted.

Chief minister Yogi Adityanath said, “It’s an unprecedented verdict but we accept the people’s decision and would work towards ironing out the flaws.”

BJP’s loss in Gorakhpur came after three decades, though Maurya’s victory in Phulpur in 2014 was its first.

Even as the results were trickling in, Samajwadi Party chief Akhilesh Yadav along with party leader Ram Govind Chaudhary met BSP chief Mayawati to say ‘thank you’ as well as give an indication that it was prepared for a bigger anti-BJP alliance in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls.

BJP leaders struggled to explain the UP by-election results. Deputy CM Maurya pointed to the low voter turnout – roughly 49% in Gorakhpur and about 38% in Phulpur, while regretting the party’s inability to get its supporters to the polling booth.

“We admit that we hadn’t estimated that together with BSP support SP candidates would be able to win so many votes,” said Maurya.

Voting percentages indicate that despite a late pact, the Samajwadi Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party fared better in convincing their supporters to vote in the by-elections.

For instance, in Allahabad north and south, considered BJP citadels, the turnout was an abysmally low 22% and 31% respectively. In contrast, the polling percentage in Soraon, Phulpur and Phaphamau, with heavy concentrations of other backward Classes and Muslims, was far better.

In fact, before voting took place on March 11, UP BSP chief Ram Achal Rajbhar had claimed that his party would be successful in getting its votes transferred to the SP.

Similarly in Gorakhpur, the urban assembly segment which houses the Gorakhnath Mutt of which Adityanath is the head priest, had recorded the lowest turnout (37.76%) among all the five that make up the Lok Sabha constituency. This was the first time in 29 years that the BJP hadn’t named a representative of the Gorakhnath Mutt as its candidate and political observers said that this too might have played an important role in the final scheme of things.

“The Mutt factor along with the fact that Akhilesh Yadav had tactically put up a candidate belonging to the Nishad OBC caste that had traditionally supported the BJP in Gorakhpur too influenced the results,” said Athar Siddiqui of the Centre of Objective Research and Analysis (CORD).

The timing of the losses has come as an embarrassment to the party, BJP leaders admit. The bypoll results come four days before the Yogi government completes a year in office. The BJP had planned an elaborate celebration on the occasion.

Political observers suggested the bypoll results could also set the trend for a broader alliance against the BJP in the 2019 elections.

“We knew it won’t be a cakewalk for the BJP and the results merely confirm the obvious. It will have broader ramifications for 2019,” Samajwadi Party leader Tariq Siddiqui said.

“It calls for introspection. We will sit and reassess. In a democracy the people’s wish is respected and we will surely get back and fix the reasons. But make no mistake. We will take it as a wake up call and would be far more focused for 2019,” UP BJP general secretary Vijay Bahadur Pathak said.

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