Before the Lok Sabha bypoll in Kairana in Uttar Pradesh, Bhandara Gondiya and Palghar in Maharashtra, and Nagaland the BJP had just won 4/23 Lok Sabha bypolls since 2014. After Thursday's result the tally now stands at 6/27. This means BJP has won 22% and lost 88% of the seats in the bypolls. Real admirers and well wishers of the party should definitely ring the alarm bell, and the successive losses especially in Uttar Pradesh cannot be termed as "fringe results".
To put it straight - Uttar Pradesh decides the course of Indian General Election by contributing largest 14%( 80/543 )seats in Lok Sabha. Losing Kairana Lok Sabha and Noorpur assembly constituency after Gorakhpur and Phulpur should worry the BJP. Even though Kairana is not a traditional BJP seat, it won the seat by a margin of 2.38 lakh votes in 2014.
This time the BJP suffered a loss with a margin of 44,000 votes roughly. A swing of 2.8 lakh votes is not natural. Even the vote share dipped by more than 14%, and that of the opposition increased by 20% plus. It is naive to say a low voting percentage is the reason. Digging a level deeper, the real question is -" Why the successive bypolls in Uttar Pradesh have not given a high voter turnout? Why the loyal voter of BJP is not coming in high number and voting? Why is the voter preferring to press NOTA?( Remember the seats BJP lost in Karnataka with a margin less than the NOTA votes?). After Gorakhpur, and Phulpur the Uttar Pradesh BJP used all its might in Kairana. But despite this the BJP could not run faster than the United Opposition. In Noorpur, despite getting 11,000 more votes the BJP could not win the seat. It is nothing more than self consoling, to feel happy about a thin margin of 4000 plus. Elections, as I said before are not about consolation prizes, they are not about moral victories, they are not any longer about becoming the single largest party; they are about - Winning- with alliance or without alliance. The BJP needs to reexamine the social engineering in Uttar Pradesh. Caste is a reality and a better caste composition is a catalyst in any election.
Kairana has always been a Muslim majority constituency. However, 2018 was acute Muslim polarization not Hindu polarization at work. Seculars should also call this blatant communalisation. The United Opposition candidate got majority of 5.70 lakh Muslim votes ( more than 90%). They did not vote on development or "ganna", they voted on religion.
"We are voting for Tabassum Begum because she is a Muslim, and we want to send our Muslim sister in Parliament ". Uniquely, Muslim women went to the polling booth along with the Muslim men. I rarely could find a Muslim woman independently going to the polling station, unaccompanied by their male counterpart. Only religious counseling at home and in community gathering can be a rational reason for the trend.
While on one hand the Muslims did not vote on "Ganna" , the Jats voted on "Ganna" and "Jaat- Pride". The Yogi Adityanath-led Uttar Pradesh government despite delivering higher sugarcane payment than the previous government, and delivering it much earlier than the erstwhile government could not win the heart of the Jat voters. Not delivering on the tall claim of sugarcane payment in 14 days, had majority of Jaats turning away from the BJP. They could relate to RLD as the party which listens to the Jats, and even popular Jat leaders of UP BJP despite repeated sincere efforts could not convince the voters. This was the biggest reason for BJP losing Kairana. Apart from Jats, the observed resentment in the Jatav Dalit Youth was unique. They blamed the BJP for making changes in the SC/ST act, for not listening to them, some also complained -" First we used to suffer from Yadavwaad, now we are suffering from Thakurvaad".
The BJP has to recalibrate its messaging on the ground in this community. The emergence of Jat- Dalit- Muslim combination, at micro sites should send signals of concern inside the BJP. Course correcting before it is becomes big enough to challenge the "Modi wave" should be an urgent priority.
There is no doubt that only thing which brings the opposition together today is -" Hate Modi Stop Modi", there are multiple self interests ingrained in political survival for different opposition parties which is bringing them together. However, with BJP facing a significant challenge in Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan and having peaked in most of these states it needs new territories to gain numbers. Along with it, it needs effective on ground communication strategy, it needs to act not react in perception battle, it needs to set the narrative not react to it, and most importantly it needs to stop over-investing it's time on Congress.
Congress today is not the principal opposition party. It is one of the opposition parties. Congress too has understood it and it's strategy to give space to antithetical regional partners to " Stop Modi" was visible in Karnataka. Make no mistake, the biggest strength of BJP is extremely popular Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who is one of the tallest leaders India has seen post independence; but if the aam-admi does not know the benefits, does not realise the benefits of the policies, the road to 2019 can be challenging. Extremely credible wins in most of the successive assembly elections, mostly winning challenging the incumbent cannot be the answer to overlook the trend emerging from the bypoll loses.
- Written by Pradip Bhandari, Founder of Jan Ki Baat