Riding aloft the Modi wave that swept through Uttar Pradesh and the rest of India earlier this year, 11 Bharatiya Janata Party and allied MLAs from the state got elected to the Lok Sabha. A little over three months later, only three of those 11 seats are still with the BJP; in the other eight, the Samajwadi Party has emerged victorious. One of the assembly seats the National Democratic Alliance lost in UP was Rohaniya, which falls under the Varanasi Lok Sabha seat that the Prime Minister won so convincingly in May.
One reason the UP by-election results require careful analysis is because the Bahujan Samaj Party chose not to put up its own candidates. From anecdotal reports, BSP supporters were encouraged to vote for any candidate who stood the best chance of defeating the SP. To the extent to which Mayawati's followers voted for the BJP, the SP victory is all the more remarkable.
And if at least some BSP voters decided to vote for the SP itself, the Bihar-style message this sends about the lethal impact that opposition unity can have on the BJP's prospects is loud and clear.
In Rajasthan and Gujarat, where the BJP won each and every Lok Sabha seat in May, the Congress wrested three of the four, and three of the nine assembly seats, respectively that had by-elections last week.
This stunning reversal is not just proof that the Modi cult has failed to carry beyond the General Election but that the BJP's state-level support might also be slipping when compared to the performance it turned in during previous assembly elections.
Another way of looking at the results is that the "normal" pattern of party politics appears to be asserting itself, a pattern that got disrupted in a major way by the Modi factor. Paradoxically, of course, the recent setback will actually strengthen the hold the Prime Minister has over the BJP because it highlights the party's dependence on his personality at the national level.
The silver lining for the ruling party in Tuesday's results, of course, came from eastern India - virgin territory for the BJP - where it won the Basirhat Dakshin seat in West Bengal and Silchar in Assam. If the reversion to "normal" politics in north and west India will eventually cost the BJP electorally, especially once the Modi wave slowly dissipates, party leaders are counting on compensating the losses with gains from the east and south. The RSS has been deploying activists in Assam, while in West Bengal the BJP is confident of eventually emerging as a credible alternative to both the Trinamool Congress and the Left Front. The Basirhat seat marks the first time the BJP will be entering the West Bengal legislative assembly on its own.
The Congress's gains in Rajasthan and, to a lesser extent, Gujarat, are politically significant because the party has been totally down and out since May 16. Its failure to attract votes in Uttar Pradesh, however, will be a cause for concern. There, it is now clear, the burden for contesting the domination of the BJP has fallen squarely on the Samajwadi Party.
The BJP's losses in UP ought to send a message to the party's state and national leadership that voters do not want divisive politics. Judging by some of the statements he has made in Maharashtra, BJP president Amit Shah was well aware of the Modi wave not helping the party in state-level contests. Is that why he picked Yogi Adityanath, Gorakhpur MP known for his inflammatory rhetoric, to lead the party's campaign for these by-elections? On cue, party leaders and activists tried to make a big issue of the hoax of "love jihad" and forced conversions, but the voters in UP seems to have seen through its communal gameplan.
As the country moves towards its next major round of elections - voting for the Maharashtra and Haryana assemblies will take place in October - the message to the BJP and its leader, Narendra Modi couldn't be clearer. Voters want the development and equity they were promised, not divisions, hate and the prospect of violence.
The Prime Minister kept quiet throughout the hate-filled campaign that his party waged in UP. He has ignored the bizarre statements about Muslims made by BJP and Sangh leaders in Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat and elsewhere. Hate politics is not only wrong but it doesn't seem to pay political dividends either. Silence is no longer an option.
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