UP bypoll results 2018: Is the success of SP-BSP alliance a pre-cursor to a larger national alliance to counter BJP?

Lucknow: Around noon, the expressions of BJP leaders in television studios across the country depicted the party’s swing in fortunes as the Bharatiya Janata Party trailed after twelve rounds of counting in Gorakhpur and Phulpur in Uttar Pradesh. Added to that were reports doing the rounds that media persons were not allowed inside the counting venue in Gorakhpur.
Poll authorities clarified that while the press was inside the campus, they could not be allowed near the electronic voting machines per the Election Commission guidelines.
When early trends had indicated BJP candidates were leading, Samajwadi Party candidate from Gorakhpur Praveen Kumar Nishad levelled allegations of EVM tampering. “I am confident of my victory and that is what people are saying that SP’s grand alliance will win this seat but there is a doubt in everyone’s mind regarding EVM machines. The government can do anything using state administration,” Nishad said. Perhaps those doubts were dispelled in later rounds when results were more favourable.
So why are two bypolls in Uttar Pradesh for the Lok Sabha such a big deal? After all, the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance government at the centre has such a big majority that a couple of seats would not result in a big shift in fortunes for the government.
For one, the Opposition takes any win as a sign that the BJP’s poll juggernaut can be stopped. They have had little cause to celebrate after 2014. The BJP led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and party chief Amit Shah have notched up victory after victory – the only exceptions to the case in states where BJP has significant presence, being Delhi and Punjab — and now over 70% of India lives in BJP or BJP-ally ruled states.
The other reason for such a keen interest in these polls is that both seats in Uttar Pradesh are prestige battles. The current Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath represented Gorakhpur for five consecutive terms. He vacated the seat in 2017 after the BJP and its allies swept into power in Uttar Pradesh, winning 325 of the 403 assembly seats in the state. The Phulpur seat, once represented by India’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, had been vacated by Keshav Prasad Maurya, who was state BJP chief and is currently the Deputy Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh. Losing these seats would no doubt result in a loss of face for the party. In 2014, the BJP’s victory margin in Gorakhpur was over 300,000 with Yogi Adityanath winning over half the votes polled. In Phulpur, the margins were better for Keshav Prasad Maurya who polled 52% of the votes.
All opposition parties would be keenly watching the Samajwadi Party-Bahujan Samaj Party experiment where they pooled their resources to combine against the BJP. This win may be the harbinger for a larger national alliance in 2019. The SP-BSP are not only combining their resources for by-polls but will also support one another in the Rajya Sabha polls later this month. BSP supreme Mayawati, who hasn’t fielded a candidate in these polls, insists that there is no ‘alliance’ yet and it is just an ‘agreement’ — mere semantics say observers.
A lot of people thought Gujarat election surge for Congress was a sign of resurgence for opposition. But series of bypoll losses for BJP in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and now in the Hindi heartland, shows race for 2019 is still wide open.