Bypoll defeats in all the three Lok Sabha seats in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar have the potential to set alarm bells ringing within the ruling BJP-led NDA which had won 104 of its 338 seats from these two states in 2014. In particular, the BJP alone had swept these states winning 93 of its 282 seats — one-third of its total tally in 2014 Lok Sabha elections from these two states. The defeats in Gorakhpur, Phulpur and Araria are a stinging blow to the party because it’s in power in both these states.
What unites these results is a trend that runs counter to the social combine that the BJP had so successfully stitched in these two key Hindi heartland states: the coalition of non-Yadav communities.
The entrenchment of Samajwadi Party and the RJD was seen as reflecting the Yadav community’s dominance in Mandal politics in the Hindi heartland (Uttar Pradesh and Bihar). The political mobilisation of non-Yadav OBC communities was seen as a viable attempt to counter them. The BJP’s success in 2017 UP elections was largely attributed to this — it fielded over a third of its candidates from non-Yadav OBC communities.
And in Bihar, where the party suffered a drubbing at the hand of Nitish-Lalu alliance in the 2015 Assembly elections, the BJP reached out to the non-Yadav community by forging an alliance with Nitish Kumar’s JD(U) in 2017.
However, this social alliance seems to have come unstuck during the bypolls to these three seats.
Both the winning Samajwadi Party candidates Praveen Nishad (Gorakhpur) and Nagendra Pratap Patel (Phulpur) hail from non-Yadav OBC communities.
The fact that SP’s Kurmi (a peasant caste) candidate won against BJP’s Kurmi candidate in Phulpur, which is considered an OBC-dominant seat, is a significant development signalling Kurmis’ preference for the SP candidate rather than the BJP’s even though both were from the same social group.
Likewise, the SP winner from Gorakhpur hails from Nishad (boatman/fisherman) community. This community spread widely across the riverine regions of the state was believed to have lent its weight behind the BJP during the 2017 Assembly elections.
But this time, the community seems to have gone with the SP’s candidate from the community ignoring the charm and appeal of saffron clad Hindutva icon and Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath.
The BSP’s Dalit support base, clearly, has also played a key role in the SP’s victory in Gorakhpur and Phulpur. That BSP once used to be an umbrella for Dalits and non-Yadav OBCs also helped SP candidates.
Also energising the Opposition is its hope that if these non-Yadav OBCs can defeat the BJP in the high-profile constituencies of Chief Minister (Gorakhpur) and Deputy Chief Minister (Phulpur), they may inflict larger damage in the Lok Sabha constituencies of “ordinary MPs.”
Even in Bihar, the alliance with JD(U), which was expected to bring the non-Yadav OBC community’s support to the BJP, does not seem to have worked as RJD candidate Sarfaraz Alam defeated BJP’s Pradeep Kumar Singh who hails from non-Yadav OBC Nishad community.
The results of Gorakhpur, Phulpur and Araria suggest that the BJP’s non-Yadav OBC support base may require more cementing when rival parties are ready to play the same game of fielding non-Yadav candidates.
Not only Yogi Adityanath’s all-encompassing Hindutva appeal seems to have frayed in Gorakhpur but Deputy Chief Minister Keshav Maurya didn’t consolidate his base either.
The results may not suggest that that non-Yadav OBCs have begun looking for options beyond the BJP but they have sent a reminder that the BJP cannot take them for granted.