Uttar Pradesh bypoll results: Template of opposition (dis)unity

File photo of UP CM Yogi Adityanath
Speaking on Motion of Thanks to Governor Ram Naik’s address to a joint Budget Session of the Uttar Pradesh legislature, Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath displayed his signature combative swagger in attacking the opposition benches. The priest-turned-politician had reserved the most acerbic verbal salvos to criticise, according to him, the “unholy” alliance between the Samajwadi Party (SP) and the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) for the Gorakhpur and Phulpur (Allahabad) parliamentary bypolls.


Adityanath not only took swipe at the SP-BSP alliance, he sarcastically reminded BSP leader Lalji Verma of the infamous 1995 State Guest House incident and the threat perpetrated by the SP to demolish the memorials built during the Mayawati regime (2007-12).


On June 2, 1995, some SP leaders and their supporters had allegedly attacked Mayawati at the Guest House falling under Lucknow’s Hazratganj police circle before she was rescued by a Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) legislator.


The SP and the BSP had forged an alliance in Uttar Pradesh in 1993-94 under the leadership of Mulayam Singh Yadav and Kanshi Ram, respectively, to counter the BJP. The 1995 incident, however, had altered the political equation between the two parties, with Mayawati avowing never to ally with the SP, which enjoys a considerable support among the backwards, especially Yadavs. BSP's voters largely comprise Dalits.


Facing existential crisis of sorts, the BSP decided not to field its candidates for the bypolls and instead support the SP nominees. Ajit Singh-led Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD) and some smaller outfits have also announced to rally around the SP candidates to counter the rampaging election machinery of the BJP that has been dominating the national political firmament winning states after states.


In this backdrop, perhaps no bypoll in Uttar Pradesh has hitherto acquired more significance and the media glare than that in Gorakhpur and Phulpur. While Gorakhpur is the traditional pocket borough of Adityanath, who is also the presiding seer of the powerful Gorakshnath Peeth, Phulpur has the distinction of being the parliamentary constituency of first prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru.


The bypolls involve the political capital of both Adityanath and deputy CM Keshav Prasad Maurya, since they had vacated respective Gorakhpur and Phulpur constituencies after taking the oath of office last year and getting elected to the UP Upper House, Vidhan Parishad.


If the experiment of the SP-BSP tie-up works, it could provide a base for the battered and scattered opposition to join forces against the BJP before the big battle in 2019 when Prime Minister Narendra Modi seeks a re-election. With Adityanath flowering in political stature nationally after becoming the CM, the bypoll results, especially in Gorakhpur, would further stamp or erode his standing.


In 2014, the BJP had registered emphatic wins in both Gorakhpur and Phulpur seats, cornering much higher votes than the votes polled by the SP, the BSP and the Congress together. However, the calculus in these bypolls could spring interesting results as it would be the first time when two heavyweight regional parties have joined forces against a national party in the state.


The OBCs and the Dalits share an uneasy equation in the state; whether the alliance actually works at the grassroots and translates into votes is yet to be ascertained. Although political pundits and even the staunchest anti-BJP voices have predicted comfortable wins for the saffron outfit in these bypolls, a lower victory margin for the BJP vis-à-vis the 2014 Lok Sabha results would give an opportunity to the opposition parties to hammer out a winning combination in 2019 by inviting the Congress in the grand anti-BJP alliance.

A lady police checks the ID cards of voters during Jehanabad Assembly bypoll, in Jehanabad | PTI photo
The Congress that had announced candidates for these bypolls, has, so far, made light of the SP-BSP alliance with party’s state president Raj Babbar terming the pact "opportunistic". The grand old party had nominated its candidates much before the poll results in the Northeastern states of Tripura, Meghalaya and Nagaland were declared, bringing gloom to its camp. Earlier, encouraged by an improved showing in the recent Gujarat polls and some state bypolls, the Congress under its new national president Rahul Gandhi had hoped to tread its own path in the bypolls.


Therefore, even a better-than-expected performance by the SP-BSP combine would compel the Congress to join the alliance before 2019, and hope to repeat the stupendous showing of the Bihar Assembly polls in 2015, when the Congress and regional parties —  Janata Dal-United and Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) -- had come together to form a potent political front against the BJP, helping Nitish Kumar retain power.


On his part, SP president Akhilesh Yadav is yearning for a win after taking over the party’s baton from his father Mulayam Singh Yadav last year following a power feud. Much against the public warning of his father, Akhilesh had aligned with the Congress before the 2017 Assembly polls, not only losing power but witnessing SP’s Vidhan Sabha tally dwindle from 224 in 2012 to 47, a slide of almost 80 per cent. The SP had also lost miserably to the BJP in 2014 Lok Sabha elections under his stewardship.


Even this time, the decision to ally with the BSP is Akhilesh’s call with Mulayam keeping away entirely from electioneering. A win or at least improved showing by the SP candidates would have a positive bearing on his political acumen and give him the much-needed bargaining chip before the 2019 polls.


For the BSP, which has consistently lost elections after elections post-2012, and is today not even in a position to elect its tallest leader Mayawati to the Rajya Sabha on its own strength, is looking for a surfing board to stay afloat.


The sudden decision of Mayawati to nominate her younger brother Anand Kumar as party vice-president last year was reckoned by political watchers as a backdoor entry to a family insider for her to fall back upon during exigencies, in wake of high profile exits from the party and also various court cases pending against the Dalit czarina.


Nonetheless, if the BJP manages to trample the SP-BSP combine and post a comfortable victory in the instant bypolls, it would definitely serve as a body blow to the fragile opposition unity, at least for now.

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