India’s Opposition energised after BJP loses UP by-elections

India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is searching for answers after suffering a shock defeat in two key by-elections in the country’s largest state Uttar Pradesh (UP) one year since it was swept to power in the state.

The two seats, Gorakhpur and Phulpur, were vacated by incumbent chief minister Yogi Adityanath (pictured) and his deputy Keshav Prasad Maurya respectively. The poll defeat in the two constituencies has jolted Adityanath and Maurya.

The Samajwadi Party (SP), which had previously ruled UP, won Gorakhpur and Phulpur seats by a clear margin of 20,000 votes and 60,000 votes respectively over BJP.

This time, SP aligned with its arch rival Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) to defeat their common enemy, BJP.

BSP did not field any candidate and all their votes went to SP along with votes from Muslim and marginalised communities.

SP and BSP, UP’s socialist parties, fell apart in 1995 after SP workers manhandled BSP leader Mayawati. Despite extending support to SP in the latest by-elections, Mayawati did not attend any campaigns or issue statements in favour of SP.

The Gorakhpur and Phulpur by-election results have rattled BJP since the SP-BSP winning formula of luring Nishad, Dalit, Muslim and Yadav communities could be replicated in the general elections in 2019.

In the 2014 national elections, BJP had won 73 of the 80 Lok Sabha (parliamentary) seats in UP in 2014. But in 2019 polls, it may find it hard to win even 30 seats if BSP and SP agree to avoid direct contests and support each other.

The defeats of BJP, which seemed invincible, has energised the Opposition which is planning a grand alliance to remove the saffron party from power. On Tuesday (March 13), the opposition United Progressive Alliance (UPA) chair Sonia Gandhi of Congress hosted a dinner that was attended among others by senior SP and BSP leaders.

Adityanath blamed BJP’s poll loss on over-confidence and failure of leaders to foresee the SP-BSP alliance adding that it should be a lesson to the party.

BJP suffered another jolt in Bihar by-elections by losing one seat to the regional socialist party, Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD). RJD won Araria seat by a margin of 61,988 votes. BJP’s consolation win came in Bhabhua where it won by a margin of about 14,000 votes. The Jehanabad assembly seat went to RJD which defeated the Janata Dal (U) by over 30,000 votes.

RJD’s victory was remarkable as its jailed leader Lalu Prasad Yadav could not participate in the campaigns. Lalu Prasad’s son and party leader Tejashwi Yadav tweeted that the BJP government has jailed an ideology that will destroy the saffron party’s ego.

The Congress-led opposition will now try to apply the SP-BSP winning formula in Karnataka which goes to polls in April-May.