The turn of political events and the results of various byelections held in various states have opened a debate — if the 2019 Lok Sabha elections are still open or are we reading too much into the results of the byelections? The results of the byelections held in Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan may not have been too worrying for the BJP, but its defeat in the recent byelections to the Gorakhpur and Phulpur Lok Sabha seats do send out some signals, which should be a matter of concern for the party. These results might help in energising parties in the Opposition for working towards forming an alliance against the BJP.
Samajwadi Party leader Akhilesh Yadav has already made the first move in that direction. He met Bahujan Samaj Party leader Mayawati recently. Even before the results were announced, leaders of various regional parties attended a dinner hosted by senior Congress leader Sonia Gandhi. One hardly wonders what might have been discussed with these leaders over the dinner. Had SP not been able to win the Gorakhpur and Phulpur seats, with the BSP’s backing, the dinner would have been a non-starter, with regard to the talks about forming a non-BJP alliance. But this victory will certainly give momentum to any efforts for forming a non-BJP morcha, though forming an all-India alliance still remains a difficult proportion due to the nature of the state-level contest between the political parties.
The defeat of the BJP in the UP byelections, more so in Gorakhpur, should ring alarm bells for the party. More than the numbers (only two Lok Sabha seats) it is the names of these two seats which are more significant. Gorakhpur was represented in Parliament by chief minister Yogi Adityanath and Phulpur by his deputy Keshav Prasad Maurya. Both the seats were won by a very high margin during the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, with the BJP polling more than 50 per cent votes. While in 2014 the BJP polled 52.4 per cent votes in Phulpur, in Gorakhpur it polled 51.8 per cent votes. It is important to note that the Gorakhpur Lok Sabha seat has been with the BJP since 1989. The BJP should have won both these seats even if the BSP-SP and other parties came together in their fight against it, as the party had polled more than 50 per cent votes in previous elections only if the BJP had managed to retain its support base.
The cause of anxiety for the BJP should be that it not only lost these two seats, but the swing of votes away from the party is more than 10 per cent in both these constituencies, not a small number of votes given the fact that the party has been in power only for the last one year. Normally, the honeymoon period for any government easily continues till about two years. The BJP should have been in a much stronger position since the honeymoon period of the Narendra Modi-led NDA government has extended beyond that as the government is about to enter its last year.
This decline in 10 per cent votes for the BJP, that too in a Lok Sabha seat like Gorakhpur, suggests that something is seriously wrong with the party in UP where it registered two successive victories (2014 and 2017) with such a huge margin. It is true that byelections are mostly contested on local issues and national or even state-level issues do not take centrestage, but this massive decline in the support base of the BJP clearly indicates the unhappiness of voters. I do not negate the fact that local issues may have taken centrestage in Gorakhpur and Phulpur, but the BJP may be making a mistake if it still wishes to ignore the farmers’ agitation across the country, dalits and students protests in parts of the country. The lower sections of voters, especially dalits and lower sections of OBC who had voted for the BJP in very large numbers both in 2014 and 2017, seemed to have moved away from it in these byelections. There is no reason to believe that this mood of voters may be restricted only to these two c
onstituencies, and does not travel beyond the boundaries of the state. The defeat of the BJP in the byelections held in Rajasthan (Ajmer and Alwar Lok Sabha seats) and Madhya Pradesh (Kolaras and Mungaoli Assembly seats) gives some indication of this, but the wind blowing across the state may not be as strong as the Opposition parties might believe.
These setbacks for the BJP should ring alarm bells for the party. On the other hand, the Congress should feel happy and upbeat for its success in Rajasthan and MP, and similarly, the regional parties for their win in Bihar and UP. The recent victory would certainly accelerate the process or an effort of forming an anti-BJP alliance, but it may not be as simple as coming to an understanding for two Lok Sabha seats.
An all-India anti-BJP front is unthinkable due to the nature of the state-level contests. After all there are states (Tamil Nadu, West Bengal, Odisha, Kerala, etc.) where these parties who may be willing to come together for an anti-BJP alliance at an all-India level also have to contest the Assembly elections against each other. At best what may seem viable is that the Congress should take the lead in states like MP, Rajasthan, Gujarat, Chhattisgarh, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, etc, where it is in a bipolar contest against the BJP; and smaller regional parties should be ready to give support to the Congress. At the same time, the Congress should be willing to take a backseat in states where regional parties are very strong, even in states like UP or Bihar, and let the regional leaders and parties take the lead for the fight against the BJP. This is easily written on paper than to be worked out on the ground. It is not an easy task to work out this arrangement carefully between various regional parties, asthe egos of regional leaders in power for long might come as an obstruction.
What regional parties need to avoid is a situation, which might seem like everyone joining against Mr Modi — Modi vs all. It needs to present the contest in such a way that there are different kinds of contests — Congress vs BJP in many states, and regional parties vs BJP in many other states. What works to the best advantage of the BJP would be to create a situation of a presidential-type election in 2019, where it would try to project the elections like either one is with Mr Modi or against Mr Modi. The Opposition stands to lose if the BJP is successful in making the 2019 election a presidential-type one. What the Opposition needs to do is to avoid that situation as much as possible.