Four months after its stunning victory in the Lok Sabha elections, the BJP suffered a setback in the assembly bypolls on Thursday, losing 13 of the 23 seats held by it in Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan and Gujarat . The only solace for the BJP came from West Bengal, where it won the Basirhat seat.
The results come close on the heels of the party’s disappointing performance in the assembly bypolls in Bihar, Uttarakhand, Karnataka and Madhya Pradesh in the last two months.
However, even as opposition parties termed the BJP’s setback as a reality check for its “acche din” slogan, the party was quick to shield Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his government from any negative impact of the results.
But while the party officially blamed “local factors” for the defeats in Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan, there was a grudging though muted acknowledgment that its losses could be due to “failure” of the Modi government to show immediate results, as promised during the campaign for the Lok Sabha elections.
“We promised the voters the moon during the Lok Sabha campaign. People thought everything would change overnight. But unfortunately, things were so bad that the change is still not very visible. Moreover, in bypolls, local factors overshadow national factors,” said a BJP leader.
The same leader admitted that the results could impact the party’s bargaining power vis-a-vis the Shiv Sena for the coming Maharashtra Assembly elections, where the longstanding alliance between the two parties is under strain due to differences over seat-sharing.
In Uttar Pradesh, the BJP lost seven of the 10 seats held by it as well as one belonging to its ally Apna Dal to the ruling Samajwadi Party.
In Rajasthan, it conceded three of four seats to the Congress, while in Gujarat, it lost another three seats to the Congress.
Equally crushing was the defeat in Rajasthan where BJP conceded three of the four seats to Congress, which also managed to wrest three of the nine seats in Gujarat, where the elections were held for the first time in 12 years sans Narendra Modi.
“The results in Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan are not up to our expectations. We will sit with the state leaders and do a seat-by-seat analysis to see what went wrong. But the bypoll results do not bring any change in the national scenario,” said Srikant Sharma, BJP’s national media convenor. However, he admitted that there have been “some issues” and the organisation could not transform the work done by the Modi government into votes in some states.
Privately, BJP leaders admitted that its high-pitch campaign, highlighted by the provocative remarks on “love jihad” which were apparently aimed at communal polarisation, backfired on the party. “It is true that the party failed to rein in those leaders by sending strong signals, the top leadership should have issued strong statements against it,” admitted a party leader. “Although we have much to talk about with regard to the 100 days in power, the first message on inflation falling came out yesterday,” he added.
“This is not what we have been expecting, but this was not a test on the central government’s performance. It will take time to reflect the good work done by the government in elections. Many leaders have gone to the government and are focusing on governance, while the party is also in the process of restructuring… It is true that we should have consolidated our organisational strength,” said BJP general secretary Murlidhar Rao.
In Rajasthan, BJP leaders admitted that although Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje has been “doing good work”, she has failed to take everyone along. “The state leaders complain that she tries to run a one-woman show and does not take the state unit into confidence, whereas Congress leaders worked silently. Leaders should realise that arrogance will not be tolerated by party workers or the voters,” said a BJP leader.
Although no leader was ready to admit that the bypoll results are a reflection on the Modi government’s performance or party president Amit Shah’s leadership skills, a party general secretary admitted that it would “look bad on Amit Shah’s leadership”.
Since Shah, who was credited for BJP’s spectacular victory in Uttar Pradesh in the Lok Sabha elections, took over the party leadership in July, the BJP has lost the bypolls in three seats in Uttarakhand, and the NDA was defeated in 13 of the 18 seats in Bihar. “The behaviour of the party president has been over-centralising. He has failed to take along the people, including his own team in any capacity. There is lot of resentment inside the party,” said a senior national office bearer.
A section of leaders said while the delay in allocating charge to his team created confusion, Shah’s decision to drop young leaders like Varun Gandhi from the national team upset many of his followers in Uttar Pradesh — a factor that worked against the BJP candidates in these constituencies.
BJP MPs also blamed the party’s electoral setback in Uttar Pradesh on the alleged misuse of government machinery by the Samajwadi Party government in the state, their money and muscle power and even free distribution of alcohol.
However, party MP from Moradabad, Kunwar Sarvesh Kumar, said the party suffered defeat because of the unwise distribution of tickets. “Rajnath Singh and Kalyan Singh know Uttar Pradesh like the palms of their hand. But they did not have any role in deciding the candidates,” he said. Thakurwara, where BJP lost to SP’s Navab Jan, falls under Moradabad Lok Sabha constituency.
Yogi Adityanath, the BJP’s star campaigner in Uttar Pradesh, also blamed ticket distribution. “There has to be an analysis of how tickets were distributed, he said.
Bhartendra Singh, MP from Bijnor — the BJP lost the Bijnor assembly seat also — admitted that the party did not have “vibrant, progressive and young leaders” in the state. “We have different groups and lobbies within the party, which is a part of any democratic political party. We do not have a face that reflects the aspirations of the people and appeals to the youth. We should have a progressive, attractive, young leader in Uttar Pradesh and that leader should be given time,” said Singh.
Anupriya Patel, leader of Apna Dal, a constituent of the NDA, blamed the SP’s “money and muscle power” for the defeat of her mother and party chief Krishna Patel’s in Rohaniya. The BJP was backing Apna Dal candidate in Rohaniya, a seat left vacant by Anupriya.
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