This Article is From Mar 15, 2018

BJP's Gorakhpur Defeat Is Poetic Justice

As I asked for a paan, he looked at me and said jovially "Anth ki shuruwaat ho gayi hai (this is the beginning of the end)". He did not say a word. Neither did I ask. He was smiling. We both understood. It was around 2 in the afternoon today. The results for the Uttar Pradesh and Bihar by-elections were coming in with the BJP trailing in Gorakhpur and Phulpur and also in Araria, Bihar. Elections were held because the Chief Minister of UP, Yogi Adityanath had given up his Lok Sabha seat from Gorakhpur and his deputy, Keshav Prasad Maurya, from Phulpur. Araria was vacant due to the death of Mohammed Taslimuddin from the RJD. The results are shocking. Just a year ago, the BJP had recorded a historic win in UP. That was a victory which belied many myths. Enthusiasts had then declared that the opposition should start preparing for the 2024 parliamentary elections because 2019 was a done deal for the BJP. Now, the loss will write a new script, not only for UP and Bihar, but also for 2019.

Here are 10 big take-aways:

1. Modi is undoubtedly the most popular leader in the country. He loves to lead from the front and is always in campaign mode. After the consecutive losses in Delhi and Bihar in 2015, it was assumed that his popularity is on the decline, but he proved that wrong with massive victories in Assam, UP, Uttarakhand, Tripura. Gujarat in December was a scare. But with by-election losses in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, and now in UP and Bihar, he should worry. Now I can stick my neck out and say he is not the same phenomenon that he was in 2014.

2. After the Bihar election results, the BJP at the centre changed gears, development took a back seat and the Hindutva agenda once again began to dominate the national discourse. The economy took a hit and jobless growth started troubling the masses, but the BJP, instead of taking corrective measures, allowed the fringe to control the mainstream. Cow slaughter, "Love Jihad", killings of rationalists, intolerance, "Padmaavat", nationalism, Kashmir and Pakistan occupied the debate space. The BJP did not realise that it had got a massive mandate to make India better, to satisfy the aspirations of the new India which wants development and development only. The warning from UP is audible for all to hear.

3. UP has experimented with Mandal politics since 2002. The state gave opportunities to Mulayam Singh Yadav in 2002, Mayawati in 2007 and to Akhilesh Yadav in 2012, but they frittered away the chance. In 2017, people wanted change. The BJP offered itself as an alternative. The state believed them, but Yogi Adityanath's appointment as Chief Minister was a rude shock; he is a practitioner of communal politics. This was a betrayal of the people's trust. The BJP's loss in Gorakhpur is poetic justice. Yogi had won this seat five times in a row. The BJP has lost Gorakhpur when Modi is PM at the centre, Yogi is leading the state. The message can't be clearer.

4. Yogi in his initial days was projected as the next poster boy of RSS and Hindutva. It was said that Yogi would be Modi's successor and he would take over from him in 2024. Yes, he was being discussed as the next Prime minister. Will Hindutva warriors still want to bet on him? Message - politics should be left to politicians, states should go to statesmen and religion should reside inside maths.

5. In a democracy, numbers should rule. 80% Hindus are Bahujans, who find themselves at the bottom of the pyramid, who are referred to as "foot born". Hindutva caters to the top 20% of the upper caste. Once the leaders of the Bahujans - OBC and Dalits - joined hands, the game was up for Hindutva warriors. Let us not forget that after the demolition of the Babri Masjid, Mulayam Singh Yadav and Kanshi Ram formed a coalition in 1993 and the BJP lost the assembly elections despite unprecedented communal polarisation. So Akhilesh Yadav and Mayawati coming together is significantly bad news for Modi and for the champions of "Hindu Rashtra".

6. The loss in Araria, Bihar, underlines the limits of vindictive politics. Lalu Yadav and his family are being hounded like never before. Lalu Yadav is in jail. But this has created sympathy for him and has consolidated the OBC and Muslims behind his party, the RJD. His son and political heir, Tejashwi Yadav, has emerged as a leader in his own right.

7. The 2015 Bihar assembly elections were a victory of Mandal forces over the politics of Kamandal. Nitish Kumar and Lalu Prasad are the pioneers of Mandal politics. When they decided to come together, on the surface it might have seemed a combination of two caste leaders but in reality it was the consolidation of OBC votes opposed to the politics of Hindutva. A strategic alliance with the minority community made this combination lethal. Nitish Kumar shaking hands with the BJP did not go down well with the backward class. I sincerely doubt that Nitish Kumar will gain anything in the company of the BJP.

8. The 2019 parliamentary elections are a year away. The opposition is still in disarray. Sonia Gandhi is trying hard to get all of them on a platform. The dinner hosted by her last night is case in point. But the message from the electorate is loud and clear. The Congress can't defeat the BJP on its own. A larger alliance is needed. If Akhilesh Yadav and Mayawati can forget their past rivalry, then why can't the others? In the present scenario, parties can fight only if they survive, and they can only survive if they are together.

9. Politics in the Indian context is very complex - and very simple too. It is complex due to its diversity, and simple due to its underlined unity. In UP, it was pure arithmetic that won. The opposition has to create the magic of social-engineering at the pan-India level.

10. Never underestimate the Machiavellian Modi. If he can bounce back after his defeat in Delhi and Bihar and win Assam, if he can overcome demonetisation to win UP, if he can survive the scare of Gujarat and deliver Tripura to the BJP, then he can still turn the tables on the opposition in 2019.

I wanted to tell the paanwala that this is just the beginning, not the end. There is still a year to go. Anything can happen.

(Ashutosh joined the Aam Aadmi Party in January 2014.)

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