The BJP’s citadel of Gorakhpur has fallen and its reverberations are already being felt far and wide. Its importance was noted by the Samajwadi Party chief Akhilesh Yadav when he told The Indian Express, “A limited alliance with Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) in these bypolls no doubt helped. We will continue this alliance for Kairana bypoll and the 2019 Lok Sabha elections”.
While the BJP also lost the Lok Sabha bypolls to Phulpur and Araria, it is the loss of Gorakhpur to Samajwadi Party (SP), which was supported by the BSP, that holds the greatest significance. “BJP is vulnerable when they are entrenched in power for too long. BJP/HMS has been in power in Gorakhpur since 1960, except very briefly in 1984,” said Akhilesh Yadav.
In the battle between the Mandir and Mandal movements that have been raging in Uttar Pradesh since the late 1980s, the fortunes of BJP in Gorakhpur have never fluctuated. In 1989, Mahant of the legendary Gorakhnath math, Avaidyanath, fought and won from here as a candidate of the Hindu Mahasabha. In 1991, he gave a shot in the arm to the BJP by contesting on its symbol, an electoral legacy successfully taken forward by his successor Adityanath since 1998.
In the 18 times that Lok Sabha polls were held for Gorakhpur, other than in 1952, those who headed the Math -Digvijaynath, Avaidyanath and Adityanath – in all, won 11 times. In 1998, even though, Adityanath got a scare, winning by a thin margin of only 7,339 votes, it has been a smooth sailing since then.
It can be debated whether the electorate was vesting its faith in the Mathadheesh of Gorakhnath temple or in the party during the years when the BJP was down and out in the state – at number four – even behind the Congress. But that debate was settled last year when Adityanath was suddenly elevated to the post of chief minister, bringing to culmination the potent mix of religious math and electoral politics.
His ascent, even as he did not contest the Assembly polls, was in part a nod to this success. As a model CM of the BJP, he went on electoral campaigns to Gujarat, Kerala, the northeast and Karnataka, and was picked to almost do what Narendra Modi was doing before he became the prime minister. That Gorakhpur was under his belt was a given thing. Political observers have underlined how Yogi Adityanath and his followers espouse a “non-Brahminical, non-orthodox Hindutva” which has mobilised the OBCs, Dalits, along with the upper castes to create a united Hindu community.
This was the major social experiment executed by the BJP in 2017, a wedding of upper castes, along with so-far ignored most backward castes, openly standing for non-Yadav OBCs, non-Jatav Dalits and excluding Muslims entirely from their band. There was no guarantee that the coming together of the BSP and SP for these bypolls would trump this innovative and highly successful electoral experiment of the BJP.
“The Nishads have not been part of the power-sharing game plan with the spoils of power only going to certain castes. SP decided to field a backward Nishad to give representation to such marginalised voices,” said Akhilesh Yadav.
The Gorakhpur result points to the rejection of BJP’s model where the BSP and the SP came together to ensure the election of a Nishad, an extremely backward caste. It is the sense of backwards and Dalits rejecting the idea that they are happy to function under an upper caste chief minister with an assertive Hindu identity. The election result takes off the sheen of Adityanath, who was hitherto seen as unassailable in his own backyard, a virtual number two campaigner to Modi across the country.
Kumar Harsh of Gorakhpur University notes that “Akhilesh visited once, Mayawati not even once, but Adityanath did five rallies and posted half a dozen ministers here. Adityanath losing like this must make them fear the rasaayan and the ganit (chemistry and mathematics) that the coming together of the two major regional parties could signal.”
This would, of course, depend on if and how the SP and the BSP are able to contest polls in 2019 together, which would be the first for a national election. Akhilesh has stated his intentions to The Indian Express but Mayawati is yet to reciprocate publicly.
Last time that an SP-BSP alliance happened was in 1993. It was for a state election and the alliance went bust in just two years. The Mahagatbandhan, as a principle in Bihar 2015, worked but was then seen as an outlier. The power of this result at the back of SP-BSP coming together would serve as a wake-up call to BJP, which has been so far pooh-poohing this as the coming together of ker and ber (banana and berry).
The numbers in UP, that gave 71 of the 282 seats to BJP in 2014, are central to the saffron party being able to retain a clear majority at the Centre in 2019. Beyond UP too, the ability of oppositional adjustments to effect a seismic shift, in such a power base, with the BJP being a formidable power in Delhi, Lucknow and Gorakhpur, is noteworthy.
Of vital importance is how the BJP reacts to this: Is this going to be with a renewed focus on the Temple and Hindu polarisation a year before 2019, or with attempts at a new social experiment.
In 1990, it was in the vicinity of Gorakhpur, in neighbouring Deoria, that Mulayam Singh Yadav, then the chief minister, waited to arrest Lal Krishna Advani on his Rath Yatra. The Rath, though, was stopped in Samastipur itself by his Bihar counterpart, Lalu Prasad Yadav, and that changed events. Now his son and successor, Akhilesh, has felled Adityanath’s citadel at Gorakhpur. This has the power to set off a whole new chain of events.