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UP Lok Sabha bypolls: Can the Elephant riding a Bicycle halt the saffron surge?

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Bypoll results are mere footnotes in electoral politics unless a big-ticket candidate is in the fray or the results can potentially alter the power dynamics in a state.

The bypolls in Uttar Pradesh for two Lok Sabha seats on March 11, Gorakhpur and Phulpur, don’t qualify on any of two parametres yet the results will have far-reaching implications for all major political parties.

Rarely has India seen a bypoll in which the prestige of the chief minister and the deputy CM of the country’s most populous state is at stake. Gorakhpur Lok Sabha seat fell vacant after Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath moved to Legislative Council of Uttar Pradesh. Similarly, Phulpur was Deputy Chief Minister Keshav Prasad Maurya’s constituency who is also now an MLC.

SP-BSP VERSUS YOGI

These bypolls are historic as they have brought arch-rivals Samajwadi Party (SP) and the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) together after nearly 25 years. Akhilesh Yadav-led SP and Mayawati’s BSP have reached an electoral understanding to fight the bypolls together in a bid to tame the saffron surge.

The last time the two parties came together in the aftermath of the Babri Masjid demolition, their alliance stopped the BJP, which was then riding on the Mandir wave, from coming to power in Uttar Pradesh.

The results of the bypolls on these two seats, Gorakhpur and Phulpur, will also open a window for the Opposition to draft a possible strategy to stop the BJP in 2019 Lok Sabha elections. While the current understanding between the SP and the BSP cannot be equated with the mahagathbandhan in Bihar, the melting of ice between Mayawati and Akhilesh Yadav has fuelled hopes for a possible alliance before 2019.

On the other hand, failing to retain the two Lok Sabha seats will be a big jolt to Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath who is completing a year in office. The immediate effect of the loss could be visible in poll-bound Karnataka, where the BJP is campaigning aggressively in its bid to oust the Congress government of Siddaramaiah.

These bypolls are that one semi-final match that the BJP cannot afford to lose after gaining momentum in the Northeast. Yogi Adityanath, the star campaigner of BJP, needs to ensure win on his home turf at any cost.

READ: Snake, mole coming together: Yogi Adityanath mocks SP-BSP alliance for UP Lok Sabha bypolls

WHAT IS AT STAKE FOR MAYAWATI

Those who have their ear to the ground and have followed the politics of Mayawati over the years insist that it will be naive to assume that the BSP supremo will be amiable to an alliance with the Samajwadi Party in 2019 just on the basis of these bypoll results.

Mayawati, who has nursed the ambition of becoming the Prime Minister of the country, is currently facing the biggest crisis of her life. After failing to bag a single seat in Lok Sabha elections of 2014, her party was reduced to 19 seats in the Assembly election in Uttar Pradesh last year.

Rajya Sabha elections on 58 seats are round the corner. For the BSP, 19 MLAs is too small a number to ensure a single Rajya Sabha seat. Mayawati needs support of at least 37 MLAs to make it to Rajya Sabha, and Samajwadi Party, after ensuring one seat for its own candidate, still has 10 MLAs to spare.

Mayawati may have resigned in a huff from Rajya Sabha last year, but is now desperate for a seat in the Upper House given that she is out of power in the state and has no representative in Lok Sabha. It is clear that she will bargain hard with the SP in lieu of her support to the latter in these bypolls.

Speculations are rife that Mayawati may finally send her brother and second-in-command in BSP Anand Kumar to Rajya Sabha, who is under the scanner of investigative agencies for alleged money laundering.

Traditionally, the BSP does not contest bypolls and therefore the party has nothing to lose in this pact with SP.

ALLIANCE FOR 2019 UNLIKELY

Beyond the bypolls in Phulpur and Gorakhpur, it is hard to imagine that Mayawati will agree to be a junior partner in an alliance led by Akhilesh Yadav.

Making space for alliance partners means conceding seats at the cost of the party’s own workers. Akhilesh has learnt it the hard way in 2017 Assembly election with his disastrous alliance with the Congress that what looks good on paper may not translate into real results.

BSP too has tried and failed in experiments with alliances with the SP and the BJP. The most common grudge of the BSP workers has been that the party’s votes are faithfully transferred to the alliance partners but not vice versa.

It is unlikely that Mayawati will be tempted towards an alliance just to fight the BJP. Akhilesh will have to make an offer that she cannot refuse. And that is easier said than done.

THE FIGHT FOR GORAKHPUR

For the moment, however, the support from the most unexpected quarter has given the Samajwadi Party candidates in fray reasons to smile.

SP candidate in Gorakhpur, Praveen Nishad, recently visited the Gorakhnath Temple and claimed that the temple will bless everyone and not just Yogi Adityanath, who is the head priest of the temple.

“With the support of the BSP, I am in a very strong postion now,” said Praveen Nishad, who is banking on the support from the sizeable Nishad (boatmen) community in the area.

Praveen Nishad, son of Nishad Party chief Sanjay Nishad, is in a direct fight with the BJP’s Upendra Dutt Shukla. On Yogi turf, Nishad knows that the fight is tough but is relying on SP-BSP arithmetic to sail through. “If we add up the votes of the SP and the BSP in 2017 election, in four out of five Assembly segments in Gorakhpur, the BJP would have lost,” said Nishad.

EYES ON INDEPENDENT CANDIDATE

Phulpur, the seat vacated by Deputy Chief Minister Keshav Prasad Maurya, has a glorious past. It has been represented thrice by Jawaharlal Nehru, then by Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit and later by V P Singh.

Riding on the Modi wave in 2014, when Keshav Prasad Maurya won this seat with 52 per cent votes and a margin of more than 3 lakh votes, lotus bloomed for the first time in Phulpur.

It is a matter of prestige for the BJP and particularly Keshav Prasad Maurya, who was instrumental in weaning away the many backward caste voters from the SP and the BSP camp during the Assembly election.

Shaurya’s man in Phulpur is Kaushlendra Singh Patel who has locked horns with another Patel for the seat–Nagendra Singh Patel of the Samajwadi Party.

Keshav Prasad Maurya has been camping in Phulpur since the last few weeks and campaigning aggressively in the constituency. “I won with 52 per cent votes so even if the opponents join hands, it will not make a difference,” Maurya said.

With Patel vs Patel, a division in Kurmi votebank is certain. But the SP is also banking on the support of nearly 2.5 lakh Yadav voters in the constituency.

Similar to Gorakhpur, in Phulpur too, the SP and the BSP together got more votes in four out of five Assembly segments in 2017.

To make matters more interesting, Atiq Ahmed, a historysheeter-turned politician, is in the fray as an Independent candidate. He was elected from the Phulpur seat in 2004 and has considerable hold on the Muslim community in the area. The BJP is hoping that he will split the votes of the Opposition camp.

It is unlikely that Mayawati will campaign for the SP candidates and questions are also being raised if the Yadavs and Dalits will come together to defeat the BJP. Traditionally, they have rarely voted together.

The Congress is contesting on both the seats and without any buzz around the party, it is staring at the danger of being only a footnote in these high-profile bypolls.

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