After Rajasthan, UP-Bihar By-Polls Suggest ‘Game Abhi Baaki Hai’ in 2019


In a huge blow to BJP just a year before the next Lok Sabha elections, the party has lost Gorakhpur and Phulpur by-polls to SP-BSP combine in Uttar Pradesh. BJP also failed to wrest the Araria Lok Sabha seat despite making big claims and a weakened RJD after Lalu’s jail term. What is more humiliating is the fact that both the seats in UP were represented by their top two men, Chief Minister and the Deputy Chief Minister of the state and were won by huge margins (3 lakh+). After the big losses in Ajmer and Alwar Lok Sabha seats in Rajasthan last month, this comes as a rude jolt to BJP and makes the contest for 2019 wide open.

Mahgathbandhan (MGB) to pose significant challenge in Uttar Pradesh in 2019

In UP, bua (Mayawati) and bhatija (Akhilesh) joined hands together to take on the BJP, with BSP extending support to SP candidates. Both the parties ran a pilot project which could take the shape of MGB in UP for 2019. BJP which was leading in Gorakhpur by 1.36 lakh votes, after aggregating BSP and SP votes, lost the seat by 21,881 votes. On the Phulpur seat, BJP was leading by 1.44 lakh votes in 2014, still lost the seat by by 59,613 votes.

phulpur

BSP has again proved its ability to transfer its votes to its alliance partners. MGB has made a dent into BJP’s vote share, -5% in Gorakhpur and -13% in Phulpur, indicating loss of a section of its anchor OBC support base. Some Dalits who voted for BJP in 2014 appear to have gone back to BSP fold. It has a dedicated set of voters in each constituency which is its biggest strength. This victory may finally give a shape to SP-BSP MGB in which Congress may also join. BJP won one-fourth (71) of its overall tally (282) from UP in 2014. Any loss of seats in UP will directly affect BJP’s ability to cross the halfway mark in Lok Sabha in 2019 and also Modi’s chances to return as Prime Minister even if BJP emerges as single largest party. The fact that the alliance partners BSP and SP were able to transfer their votes seamlessly will increase the headache of BJP.

SP and BSP on a combined basis got just 1.5% less votes than BJP and allies in 2014. If one adds Congress, the MGB could lead BJP by 6%, vote share. While alliance is not all about arithmetic but also about chemistry, BJP’s experience in Bihar and now UP suggest otherwise. The social coalition of Dalits, Adivasis, Yadavs and Muslims, (51% of population) which this MGB hopes to create would pose a significant challenge to upper castes, Jats and OBCs vote block of BJP (49% of population).  If BSP and SP would have contested together, BJP+ would have won 37, INC 2 and BSP+SP 41. If SP, BSP and Congress would have contested together, BJP would have won 24 and MGB 56.

Vote share in 2014 Lok Sabha elections

BJP + Apna Dal

BSP + SP BSP + SP + INC
43.6% 42.1%

49.6%

MGB still in reckoning in Bihar

In Bihar, RJD plus Congress alliance have held onto the Araria Lok Sabha (by 61,988 votes) and Jehanabad assembly seat (by 35,036 votes) despite party patriarch Lalu in jail. While Jehanabad is a minority dominated seat, BJP was hopeful of winning the Araria Lok Sabha seat which it had won in alliance with JDU in 2004 and 2009. BJP + JDU were leading by 75,265 votes in 2014 Lok Sabha polls. The results suggest Nitish has lost significant support among the minority community because of his re-entry into NDA. JDU lost c.1/3rd of its votes to RJD. 

araria

While RJD candidate benefitted from sympathy factor due to his father’s death, Lalu has been able to consolidate his vote base amongst minorities, Yadavs and OBCs alleging witch hunt by BJP as visible by 5% increase in vote share in Jehanabad. NDA won 31 out of 40 seats from this state and is key to party’s fortunes in 2019.

Jehanabad Vote Shares

 

2015 2018 By-Poll

RJD

51%

56%

BJP+JDU

31%

30%

Anti-BJP united opposition could take on BJP just like 1977

The loss of BJP in these by-polls gives a fillip to efforts of opposition to form a broad anti-BJP alliance. Sonia Gandhi hosted a dinner for leaders of 20 regional parties yesterday at her residence to kick start the process. These parties (excluding Left) together recorded 36% vote share in 2014, higher than NDA vote share of 34% (excluding TDP and Shiv Sena). BJP’s consecutive wins in state after state and recent performance in North East has made regional parties jittery. A 1977 like situation wherein entire opposition united to take on Indira Gandhi cannot be rule out. This time though, BJP and Congress would reverse their roles. Congress could lead this front against Modi.

Time is ripe for any such alliance. Mamata as well as Naveen are facing challenge from a rising BJP in the state. In Karnataka, Congress is sweating it out against BJP to save one of its last big turfs. In Kerala, BJP’s strategy is to up the ante against the Communist like in Tripura. Two of top allies of BJP – Shiv Sena (18 seats) and TDP (15 seats) – may contest independently. Entry of JDU in NDA will complicate seat sharing arrangement in Bihar which could force smaller allies like LJP and RLSP to leave, Manjhi has already left.

Lessons for BJP for finals in 2019

BJP cannot ignore these warning signals. It struggled in Gujarat. It has marketed its North east victory as historic, but fact of the matter is these 3 states have only 5 Lok Sabha seats. Big sections of society – traders, farmers and youth – are increasingly losing patience with BJP. Its claims of ‘achche din’ have not translated on the ground, with these groups protesting all across India. Majority population don’t understand and care about GDP growth, FDI, Fiscal deficit etc., which PM Modi boasted about in the two interviews he gave. Party has got its messaging wrong and risks falling fiasco similar to ‘India Shining’. The fact that it rules 22 out of 31 states is a double edged sword. It risks facing double anti-incumbency in these states. State leaders can’t push blame to centre for non-performance, similarly, Modi can’t push blame on party’s / ally’s state leadership for not delivering.

To conclude, one year is a long enough time in politics. Everything was hunky dory for BJP till about a month ago. Two consecutive losses in its den, has turned things upside down and made the contest for 2019 wide open. Nothing is certain in politics. If opposition is able to overcome its differences and form a MGB at national level, it could pose a serious challenge to Modi. Match on in 2019!

This article was first published in TheQuint.

One comment

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