On March 19, Yogi Adityanath completed one year as Uttar Pradesh’s chief minister. Within a year, he has emerged as the new poster boy of Hindutva and development within the BJP and the country. So much so, that he is being talked about as a potential Prime Minister of India, in the post-Modi era. But some political pundits rushed to write off Adityanath after the BJP’s marginal defeat in the by-election to the Gorakhpur parliamentary seat.
The setback should certainly be a matter of concern for the CM and the BJP. But let’s look at the Gorakhpur poll a little more closely. In 2014, when the BJP won an unprecedented 71 Lok Sabha seats from UP, it received 42.6 per cent of the votes in Gorakhpur. Even then, the combined vote share of the SP and BSP matched the BJP’s. In 2017, when the BJP swept the UP assembly elections with 312 seats, it got 40 per cent of the vote, and SP+BSP was substantially greater at 44.4 per cent. So, the main reason for the loss at Gorakhpur is the combined vote share of two regional satraps who have ruled UP for a couple of decades and created committed caste and community-based vote banks. In 2014, Adityanath won the Gorakhpur seat with a margin of more than 3 lakh votes but in the by-polls, SP candidate Praveen Kumar Nishad won only by a margin of 21,000 votes. Every parliamentary seat has around 2,000 polling booths and every booth has around 1,000 votes. A margin of 21,000 votes can be reversed just by improving the vote share in two to three dozen booths. Moreover, a larger exercise of seat-sharing for the 80 seats in UP between SP, BSP and the Congress in 2019 will not be a smooth exercise, given the complex electoral arithmetic and clashing egos.
The Gorakhdham mutt is revered across east UP and many people pay their respect to it by voting for the candidate from the mutt. The seat has been held by the mutt for many decades. This was a rare occasion, when a representative of the mutt was not contesting the seat. Moreover, Praveen Kumar Nishad, who comes from the Nishad (fisherman) community, reportedly spread the message that the mutt was established by Guru Matsendranath (matasya means fish in Hindi) and so, he is closer to the mutt than the BJP candidate. By-polls never generate the political euphoria of a general election, which leads to lower voter turnout. The 11 per cent drop in voting also went against the BJP.
For Mayawati, whose party never fields candidates for by-polls, the support to the SP candidate in return for their support for a BSP candidate to the Rajya Sabha made sense. In the time of the Narendra Modi-Amit Shah juggernaut, to keep herself and the BSP relevant, Mayawati had to forget years of political animosity with SP that began with the alleged infamous guesthouse molestation incident in 1995.
For new politicians, there is a lesson in the words of Adityanath after the Gorakhpur loss. He humbly accepted that the over-confidence of the party and cadres —“it’s Yogi ji’s seat, how can we lose it”— cost them a victory. Adityanath has been a parliamentarian from this seat for five consecutive terms, increasing his margin of victory each time. His meticulous interventions in Parliament can be seen in the number of questions he asked, debates he has participated in and the number of Private Member’s Bills he presented. The questions covered a wealth of topics, including making the vaccination for Japanese Encephalitis (JE) in eastern India compulsory, bank NPAs, the condition of IITs and IIMs, opening an AIIMS in Gorakhpur and Indo-US ties. His janata darbars in the mutt, where he spent 3-4 hours every day over the last two decades, made him a people’s man in eastern UP. The mutt runs more than 44 educational, medical and other institutions. For over two decades, Adityanath has been like a CEO, giving him a lot of administrative experience.
One year is too little time to judge somebody’s performance. But even in a year, there has been noticeable improvement in the law and order situation in UP. There is a visible end of high-level corruption in the police, RTOs, overloading of trucks, ration system etc. Lakhs of bogus ration cards were cancelled. All the procurement of the state has moved to an e-procurement system and UP’s 24/7 provision of power to all has been hailed even by his detractors. Clearing long-pending payments to sugarcane farmers, making affordable and regular electricity available to farmers and loan waivers for more than 85 lakh farmers, have kept the farming community happy. In the recently concluded investment summit, UP attracted leading entrepreneurs from India and abroad and more than Rs 4.5 lakh crore — almost equal to the yearly budget of UP — has been pledged.
Adityanath is only 45 years old and has already spent 19 years in Parliament and is the chief minister of the most populous state in India. By 2024, with perhaps two terms as chief minister and 19 years as MP in his resume, and with his popularity seen in rallies and social media, he certainly will be a candidate for a bigger role on the national stage. It will be naive to write him off as a political force just on the basis of the Gorakhpur loss.