Barely a year ago, as the Bharatiya Janata Party swept the assembly polls in Uttar Pradesh, 2019 seemed like an open and shut case for the rest of the political firmament in India. Yet a day after UP chief minister Yogi Adityanath celebrated a year in office amid much fanfare, he has had to suffer the ignominy of a massive defeat on his home turf of Gorakhpur by losing a Lok Sabha seat he had held for five terms to the Samajwadi Party-Bahujan Samaj Party combine.
I cannot think of another example in recent times of a chief minister losing a seat so soon into his term in office and the ignominy is actually quite shameful. And yet the BJP should have seen it coming. The UP victory last year was Narendra Modi’s and did not belong to any one else. Yet a man who was earlier dismissed as the fringe in the BJP was brought centre-stage and allowed to run riot in a state which was badly governed to begin with but seems to have ended up in worse straits under the Yogi. Cow vigilantism, encounter killings, love jihad, roadside Romeos, one-rupee write-offs of farmers’ loans is what his government has distnguished itself with. But the worst of all these non-accomplishments was the deaths of at least a hundred children in a hospital in his hometown for lack of oxygen and the deliberate attempt to make scapegoats of doctors and officials who may have cared a whit more for the dying babies than the chief minister of the state and a long-term MP of the constituency. No wonder even the booth of the Gorakhpur mutt recorded more votes for the Congress which was nowhere near this election than for the BJP – the Congress polled 53 votes and the BJP just 46 in that booth while the SP swept with 1775 votes there alone. Could there be anything more shameful for a man in Yogi’s position than that?
However, according to inside sources, the defeat in Gorakhpur is reflective of the internal strife within the BJP and may have made many in the party happier than one can fathom. There has been an attempt by some sections to prop up Yogi Adityanath as an alternative to Modi in the future and this obviously has not gone down too well with Modi and his supporters. Obviously, there was little support from Modi to Yogi at these bypolls. But quite apart from the fact that a godman cannot make a good politician, for more reasons than one, there was also the little fact about the attempt by Yogi to polarise the electorate midway through the campaign by deliberately stating while he celebrates Holi with much enthusiasm, he would never celebrate Eid. Obviously, he tried to do a Modi ‘shamshan-kabristan’ act of his own but clearly came off a weak copy. So, if even the Hindu voters in the Goraknath mutt booth swung towards the SP rather than BJP, the question that needs to be asked is – when push comes to shove, is Hindutva less important to the people than presumably jobs and perhaps caste? For the tie-up between the SP and the BSP which was quite overlooked and dismissed by the BJP as inconsequential and “political saudebaazi (deal-making)” obviously cost the party heavy. As UP deputy chief minuster Keshav Prasad Maurya whose Phulpur seat was also lost by the BJP said, the party did not expect the BSP votes to be transferred to the SP in such measure.
And it is precisely that kind of complacency and underestimation of both its rivals and allies that is doing the BJP in. The Shiv Sena has already told Modi off in no uncertain terms, constantly cribbing about various slights and issues which could have been dismissed as a case of sour grapes had it been restricted to the Shiv Sena alone. But who would have thought that long-term BJP ally, the Telegu Desam Party, would move a no-confidence motion against the Modi government at the Centre and would be on the same page as its own rival the YSR Congress on the issue? . Most political parties, whether with or not with the TDP, seem to be supporting the no-trust move. But what is amazing is that for a party with such a brute majority in parliament four years ago, it (managers are having to consider floor management and take a relook at their numbers – theirs have reduced and others, including the Congress, have increased after a series of byelection losses by the BJP in recent months. And many of the party’s allies are unhappy, if not going quite as vocal as the Shiv Sena and the TDP at the moment.
The Modi government is unlikely to be jeopardized by the no-trust move but more significant than the vote is the message of the no-confidence motion per se. Combined with the byelection defeats in major states of the country, it busts the myth of Modi’s invincibiity and underlines his inability to keep friends like the Shiv Sena or even partymen like Yogi Adityanath, who should actually have no conflict of interest with him, happy and contented.
But when the season of discontent spills over to loyal allies like the TDP one must begin to think. Is it just the denial of special category status bothering Andhra chief minister Chandrababu Naidu? Or is it the general discontent of the people with the current dispensation that has been the more motivating factor in distancing oneself from an ally that could only drag it down at the next elections? If the latter is true, then things might be much worse than they seem, among allies as well as among the common people.
We must await the results of elections to the Karnataka assembly to gauge the mood of the people in South India. But without the support of parties like the TDP, the BJP ‘s southern sojourn could remain incomplete particularly as there is a rising (political) star in the south (Kamalahasan) who has clearly distanced himself from the colour saffron and could eat into a chunk of the AIADMK votes that the BJP is banking upon at the next elections.
With north India under siege as evident from earlier by-elections in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and now Bihar and UP (where Hindutva has mattered less than bread-and-butter issues), a hostile west (Maharashtra, the second largest state after UP in terms of Lok Sabha seats) and east (West Bengal and Orissa), the north east being too insignificant in numbers, I believe both Modi and the BJP have their task cut out for them in the next few months when election fever will grip the country in right earnest. All tried and tested formulae are falling by the wayside. When you are dying of starvation (or lack of oxygen), the temple bhog is not enough to assuage either your hunger or your grief. That is what voters have told Yogi Adityanath and, by extension, Narendra Modi.