Ghosi bypoll: Time for I.N.D.I.A. to celebrate, but also to strategise for future
The Ghosi victory has infused a spring in the Opposition’s stride, but it still can’t rest on its laurels
The ruling BJP’s resounding defeat in the Ghosi assembly by-election in Uttar Pradesh has given an edge to the Indian National Developmental Inclusive Alliance (INDIA), as the battle was being seen as the first litmus test of the Opposition alliance’s unity and strength.
The Samajwadi Party's victories in the zila panchayat by-polls in Lucknow, Mirzapur, Jalaun and Bahedi are also significant, and add to the political message from Ghosi.
Even though by-elections were held for seven assembly seats across six states, all eyes were set on Uttar Pradesh’s high-pitched contest in Ghosi. This was a battle of prestige for the BJP central leadership, especially Union home minister Amit Shah.
Observers believe the foundation of the Samajwadi Party's victory here had been laid down on the day it announced the candidature of Sudhakar Singh to take on BJP’s Dara Singh Chauhan—his former party 'brother'. SP president Akhilesh Yadav chose to go with the local workers’ opinion on this, despite the reservations of some leaders.
Ghosi has never been a BJP seat, and BJP candidate Dara Singh Chauhan was never popular in this area, though he had won the last assembly election in Ghosi — on an SP ticket.
Since 1996, Chauhan has changed his party allegiance nine times.
In contrast, Sudhakar Singh’s image is that of an easy-going, accessible leader, who is fondly called ‘neem ke ped tare-wale netaji' for his habit of sitting down in a chair under the neem tree in front of his home in Ghosi to welcome people for discussions, whenever he is in residence.
He is popular not only in Ghosi but in the entire Mau district. Taking lessons from past mistakes and lapses, the top leadership of the Samajwadi Party left no stone unturned in fighting this by-election.
SP got votes from every caste
If we look carefully at the polarisation of some recent elections, at least the Samajwadi Party rarely sees such support that breaks the boundaries of caste and community. In the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, the BJP had got a good share of the traditional Yadav votes that typically went to the SP and the Jatav votes that used to be the Bahujan Samaj Party's purview.
But the results of the Khatauli bypoll last year and now the victory in Ghosi have opened up new inroads for the Opposition. If Khatauli gave the Akhilesh Yadav–Jayant Chaudhary duo a thumbs-up in western Uttar Pradesh, then the people of Ghosi have given their approval to the INDIA alliance in Purvanchal.
Shock to OP Rajbhar
These election results have also dealt a big blow to the political prospects of Om Prakash Rajbhar, who was trying to give the impression that after he joined hands with the BJP, the NDA had become invincible in Purvanchal.
This defeat has dispelled Rajbhar’s illusion and the net result is a war of words within the NDA.
Notably, the BJP lost in spite of the entire UP cabinet canvassing in Ghosi.
Mayawati’s shrewd gambit
Some people believe that Dalit votes got divided and that the SP also got a chunk of it thanks to BSP supremo Mayawati's ambiguous stance. But the truth is that it was a calculated move by Mayawati — her message to her voters was clear.
She not only sat out of the battle (BSP generally does not contest by-elections anyway), but sent out a message exhorting her voters to think wisely. Taking that cue, the Dalits almost unanimously voted for the Samajwadi Party.
This is being seen more as the Dalits’ displeasure with the BJP than their love for the Samajwadi Party. A large section of the Dalit society has now started seeing their own place in the slowly unfolding picture of the BJP mindmap, and is considering their recent moves as an attempt to change the Constitution made by Babasaheb Bhimrao Ambedkar, their hero.
This election has also put paid to the myth that Yadavs and Dalits cannot come together.
But will this truce across the Dalit, Muslim and Yadav communities — which sees the enemy of their enemy as a common (if not mutual) friend — continue in future elections as well?
The answer to this can be best gleaned from this comment from Shatrughan Lal, a voter in Ghosi: “When resentment against power turns into a public sentiment, such coordination emerges.”
A setback for Yogi or for Shah?
It is being said that UP chief minister Yogi Adityanath struck off several items on the to-do list of his personal ambitions in the Ghosi by-election.
It is a widely held belief that Yogi Adityanath did not want Dara Singh Chauhan to come back to the BJP from the SP when he last switched sides.
However, it was Union home minister Amit Shah who apparently convinced Chauhan to come back. Adityanath did not like that.
Both Chauhan and Rajbhar had joined the BJP directly after meeting Amit Shah in Delhi.
If Chauhan had won, he would have claimed a berth in Adityanath's cabinet (which he was promised by the central leadership).
Also, one more seat would have had to be arranged for Om Prakash Rajbhar, who was eager to claim the credit for Chauhan’s victory.
Some observers believe that Adityanath smoothed his own path by giving instructions to conduct ‘free and fair’ elections in Ghosi. The way Sudhakar Singh congratulated the administration on 'free and fair' voting after winning the elections is noteworthy here.
The Ghosi victory has also reminded the Samajwadi Party that it had achieved a huge victory in 2012 by practising inclusive politics and that its subsequent move away from the same inclusive politics has cost it dear in recent years.
However, first in the by-elections in the Mainpuri Lok Sabha constituency and now in Ghosi, the SP has been seen correcting that mistake.