Opposition needs not just political unity but electronic vigil too

Amazingly, losing BJP candidate in Gorakhpur Upendra Dutt Shukla, despite several negative factors including a far lower voter turnout than 2014, got over 4 lakh votes cast in his favour

Photo by Rajesh Kumar/Hindustan Times via Getty Images
Photo by Rajesh Kumar/Hindustan Times via Getty Images

Raman Swamy

After the Gorakhpur bypoll results, thousands of grassroots workers and supporters belonging to various Opposition parties are exchanging sweets and mutual congratulations. Amidst plenty of back-slapping and promises to let bygones be bygones, there is a new resolve to join hands in the fight against Narendra Modi.

However, celebrations are more muted among a handful of senior Opposition party leaders and election managers. They say that the real challenge in upcoming general elections will not just be political, it will also be electronic.

Political analysts have come out with a dozen different reasons why the BJP did not win the Gorakhpur Lok Sabha byelection.

Some of the quite valid and entirely credible reasons include:

  • Yogi was over-confident
  • low voter turnout cost BJP dearly
  • Mayawati successfully transferred BSP votes to the Samajwadi candidate
  • Congress leaders deliberately deserted their candidate to avoid splitting anti-BJP votes
  • RSS did not instruct swayamsewaks to mobilize voters and man polling booths Modi did not campaign personally
  • BJP party bosses wanted to cut Yogi down to size

But savvy strategists know none of these reasons could have caused such a shocking defeat. There was no way Yogi Adityanath could have suddenly lost his popularity within a year of becoming Chief Minister.

The statistical evidence is that his popularity did not plummet. His ability to persuade voters to vote for his chosen candidate did not diminish to such a devastating extent.

The BJP candidate in Gorakhpur in 2018 did not (repeat did not) get far less votes than Yogi Adityanath did in 1998, 1999, 2004 and 2009.

Here are the simple figures. Adityanath had won four Lok Sabha elections (before 2014) from the same constituency with the following total vote tally – 4,03,156 in 2009; 3,53,647 in 2004; 2,67,382 in 1999; 2,68,428 in 1998.

This time, in the just concluded byelection in Gorakhpur, the BJP candidate Upendra Dutt Shukla attracted 4,34,632. In other words, he got more than Yogi did right from 1998 through to 2009.

Shukla lost. He came second. But he still got more votes than Yogi Adityanath had ever got prior to 2014 (see graphic below).

How many votes did Yogi get in 2014? Yogi obtained 5,39,127 votes.

Opposition needs not just political unity but electronic vigil too
NH Graphic

It was an incredible record-breaking feat and it was said that Yogi Adityanath was able to cross the five lakh barrier on the crest of what was described as the Modi Wave.

The 2014 Lok Sabha elections are considered historic because they swept the BJP to power at the centre, with an unbelievable haul of 71 seats out of 80 in Uttar Pradesh. They catapulted Narendra Modi to the hallowed post of Prime Minister of India. The other parties were decimated in an incredible result.

That is the point. Words like unbelievable and incredible are crucial. It was a great mystery that has never been solved.

But coming back to the present, there was clearly no ‘Modi Wave’ in February-March 2018. This was just a byelection, after all.

The voters did not come out in huge numbers as in the Year of the Wave, 2014. The Prime Minister did not come personally to whip up a frenzy of support and enthusiasm for the BJP candidate. Party president Amit Shah was too busy in the North-East and the South and elsewhere to spend too much time in Gorakhpur, much less camp there for days on end. The RSS field workers, for all their reputation for being dedicated, efficient and hard-working drones, did not (reportedly) exert themselves unduly to ensure the BJP candidate got the maximum votes.

Yet Upendra Dutt Shukla’s vote tally is 4,34,632. In spite of all the negative or passive factors, including a far lower voter turnout than 2014, the losing BJP candidate got over 4 lakh votes cast in his favour. Amazing.

Why did he still lose? Why did he not get another one lakh votes like Yogi Adityanath did in 2014? What happened?

Opposition poll strategists claim to have the answer. Yogi’s 2014 tally, they allege, had “add-on votes”.

What does that mean? What is “add-on votes”?

It is the electronic, or EVM factor, they claim factor. There are ways in which additional votes can be added. In the 2018 bpolls, meticulous monitoring at each stage of polling, storage and counting was done and this may have prevented add-on votes. The media too was vigilant during counting.

Do they have any proof? How can such vague insinuations and nebulous claims be leveled without evidence? Wait, they reply. The time for revelations will come, they promise. Not convincing, but certainly intriguing.

Meanwhile, Opposition strategists candidly confess they are very worried about the 2019 elections. According to them, Opposition unity alone will not be enough. Vigilance is vital and so is expertise in electronic software technology. EVM machines with VVPAT paper trail in every single polling booth would be essential.

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