by Anupama Ghosh*
A year after its spectacular success in the Assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh, the BJP has been dealt a double blow in the by-elections in Gorakhpur and Phulpur. The loss of Gorakhpur is of great significance for the BJP, as Yogi Adityanath had been winning the constituency since 1998, making it one of the ‘safeseats’ of the party. In the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, Yogi Adityanath defeated his nearest SP rival by a margin of more than three lakh votes. In the Assembly elections in 2017, the BJP had won eight of the nine seats in Gorakhpur.
UP Elections and the Arithmetic
Uttar Pradesh’s diverse demographic setup plays a significant role in its elections. For instance, Gorakhpur has a sizeable Muslim population apart from a formidable amalgamation of forward castes, Other Backward Classes (OBC) and Scheduled Castes (SC). Various OBC castes like the Nishads and Mallahs comprise 23 per cent of the population, making them the second largest community after the Brahmins.
The political loyalties of the dominant and more populous castes are assumed to be fixed, while communities comprising the non-Yadav and non-Jatav Dalits are generally wooed by political parties before crucial elections. For instance, just weeks before the Assembly elections in 2017, the then Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav cleared the inclusion of 17 OBCs in the SC list. This created a furore because these 17 sub-castes included the larger Nishad and Mallah communities along with the smaller communities of the Kewat, Kumhar etc. Many of these communities by themselves may have a small votes hare, but together they constitute a significant chunk of votes, capable of affecting electoral outcomes.
SP–BSP Alliance Equals Effective Social Engineering
The coming together of SP and BSP ahead of the by-elections was the topic of much heated discussion. Not only had these two parties been bitter rivals until recently, but it also meant the coming together of a considerable vote base. The success of this alliance was bolstered with the addition of smaller parties with a stronghold over local castes and communities.
In 2016, the Nirbal Indian Shoshit Hamara Aam Dal (Nishad) Party was formed for the empowerment of the Nishads, Kewats, Binds and other communities, which form a sizeable proportion in eastern Uttar Pradesh and Gorakhpur. The Nishad Party had contested the 2017 elections in alliance with three other smaller parties. Even though the party won just one assembly seat from Bhadoi, and none in Gorakhpur, it did manage a respectable vote share in many of the seats in Gorakhpur.
In the recently concluded by-elections, the SP alliance made Praveen Nishad, son of the founder of the Nishad Party, the SP candidate. Another significant addition into the alliance is the Peace Party, which seems to have yielded the support base of the Pasmanda Muslims in eastern Uttar Pradesh, leading to a larger consolidation of Muslim votes.
It is believed that the BJP had been able to garner the non-Yadav backward and non-Jatav Dalit vote banks in the 2014 Lok Sabha and 2017 Assembly elections. However, it is said that the party has been unable to repeat retain this vote base in the by-elections because of the SP–BSP alliance.
The Factor of the Lower Voter Turnout
In 2014 and 2017 elections, the BJP delivered stellar electoral results in the state. It might be wrong to assume that the entire success of the SP–BSP faction and the failure of the BJP were due to simple demographics. Like in most by-elections, the voter turnout in these elections was less than in the Lok Sabha elections. While the Lok Sabha elections in Gorakhpur had a 54.6 per cent voter turnout, in the by-election, it was only 47.8 per cent.
What may have particularly affected the BJP is the low voter turnout in the urban areas, which are usually considered the party’s traditional stronghold. Thus, while the rural and semi-urban pockets of Gorakhpur had about 50 per cent turnout, in Gorakhpur Urban, only 37.7 per cent chose to cast their vote.
The BJP campaign in these elections was also devoid of the party’s biggest crowd puller, Prime Minister Narendra Modi. His absence from the campaigning may have had an adverse impact on the turnout and election outcome.
Congress Proves Ineffective
The Congress Party decided to part ways with former ally SP in these elections. However, this did not make the elections a triangular fight between the Congress, SP–BSP and BJP. The consistent erosion of Congress votes seems to have continued unabated in these elections as well, as the Congress candidate could only garner two per cent of the vote share. With a low voter turnout and an anti-BJP front in place, it may have led to consolidation of votes for the SP–BSP alliance.
*Anupama Ghosh is Research Intern at CPPR. Views expressed in this article are personal and do not reflect those of CPPR.