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BJP’s Defeat In U.P By-Polls Shows Anti-Incumbency At Play

The clock of anti-incumbency has started ticking. 

The BJP which rules Uttar Pradesh has lost badly in Kairana and Noorpur. Begum Tabassum Hasan, the RLD candidate who later got the support of Congress, SP and also BSP, defeated Mriganka Singh, daughter of the Hukum Singh whose death had necessitated the by-polls. In Noorpur, the SP candidate, Naimul Hasan defeated the BJP candidate Avni Singh, wife of Lokendar Singh, the local MLA whose death in a road accident led to the by-poll.

The Party which had won the Kairana seat with an impressive margin of more than two lakhs in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, lost it by more than 50000 votes this time. The latest loss for the Hindutva party has come in the series of humiliating defeats in its bastions like Gorakhpur and Phulpur.

Kairana has been a site of their Hindutva experiments since former MP Hukum Singh came up, before the UP Assembly polls, with the myth of Hindu exodus, an idea which was exposed and proven as just an attempt to communally polarise the region.

I want to describe in detail how the significance of BJP’s loss in Kairana and Nurpur, goes beyond its immediacy and indicates a change in the ground realities and people’s perceptions towards the Narendra Modi led party.

But to understand that shift and that how all the strategies BJP used, failed miserably, it is very important to go in detail how BJP which is the pan-national party now, put so many stakes in what was otherwise just a by-poll.

First of all, Chief Minister Adityanath tried every attempt to communally polarise the polls by raising the 2013 Muzaffarnagar riots and by invoking Jinnah controversy and saying that he “would not let anyone put up a Jinnah portrait”. Even the local BJP leadership left no attempt at trying to turn the by-polls into Hindu vs Muslim, Us vs Them, equation.

Local BJP MP Kanta Kardam was booked on the directions of the Election Commission for inciting religious sentiments when she said at an election rally in Kairana, “Muslims have always betrayed Hindus”.

On top of it, even Narendra Modi going beyond the dignity of his institutions, pitched in only to win what was otherwise just a by-poll. So much was the pressure on the party to win Kairana that Modi had to inaugurate an unfinished Expressway in Delhi and later address a public meeting in Baghpat, close to Kairana hours before the by-poll. While the BJP invested everyone, from Modi to Yogi in winning the by-poll, let alone, Rahul Gandhi, even Samajwadi Party, did not campaign in Kairana.

So the BJP on its part increased the stakes of a by-poll to an unimaginably disproportionate level. Hence its defeat is bound to have an impact much beyond Kairana and UP.

One would be politically naive if the repeated humiliating defeats of BJP in a state like Uttar Pradesh, which gave 73 seats to Modi, are not read as the reflection of people’s anger and their mandate on four years of Modi’s governance and more than one year of Yogi rule.

The four humiliating defeats delivered by Yogi Adityanath before the 2019 General Elections, has led many senior leaders of the State as well as the national unit, extremely upset and worried. Their nightmares are coming true.

The defeats, some of them felt, signal towards an imminent anti-incumbency and public anger which the party leadership, is unable to hear due to the noise of over-amplified manufactured propaganda which dominates the discourse on daily basis.

Blaming this victory to only the unity of Opposition parties will be like misreading the public mind precisely because the BJP lost the by-polls despite investing everything and using all its tricks. Development and Vikas was not the strategy that BJP deployed because, for farmers and common people on the ground, realities have not changed.

The farmers, for instance, are yet to get Rs. 12,0000 crore from sugar cane industry. There is no employment for the youths. Price rise and steep hike in fuel prices have broken the back even of the middle class.

I would be wrong if I do not mention how only to win the Kairana by-poll, the ruling party came up with the proposal of withdrawing all the riot cases against Jats, an idea which baffled the very idea of justice. It would mean that all those who were accused of murder, rioting, gang-rape will be free only because of being a Hindu. The decision of the Yogi Adityanath government was an insult to the victims who were gang-raped and killed and thousands of them who had to run away from their ancestral homes and live like strangers in other areas.

But the party which boasts of “Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas” did not wink before doing that because communal polarisation was the deliberate strategy it wanted at play in Kairana. This was being done to woo the Jats and overall Hindu voters in Kairana because of the strong anger against them for the BJP which failed to respond to their aspirations and promises. The community had voted for the BJP in masse in 2014 and supported the party even in the 2017 Assembly polls.

By voting for a Muslim candidate in Kairana, Jats have shown that they have moved beyond the communal polarisation of Muzaffarnagar riots and the issues like cane dues, price rise, fuel price hike, increase in electricity rates, lack of employment generation, and matters much more and that they can not be fooled once again.

Generally, the political logic is that the by-poll results go in favour of the ruling party. Repeated by-poll results coming from the State which is considered to be the main Hindu heartland and a cow belt State, has turned this on its head.

This anti-incumbency on the ground coupled with the unity among the Opposition party, as demonstrated in Kairana, have proved that Hindutva politics of BJP will not work, as it did not even in Kairana which the party had been trying to communalise since 2015.

Interestingly, the noteworthy fact here is that the anger against the government overrode the sympathy votes that the death of the political leaders could invoke among the electorate.

While the party through its superbly handled and sponsored media coverage has managed to portray that people are feeling happy about the government and majority of Indians would still vote for Modi in 2019, the people on the ground seem to be unhappy.

BJP has failed to fulfil the promises it made to people at large. The clock of anti-incumbency has started ticking.


The author is studying Public Policy at Oxford University.

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