Samajwadi Party (SP), backed by its arch-rival BSP, scripted a major political upset in Uttar Pradesh on Wednesday by snatching BJP's two of the most prestigious Lok Sabha seats — Gorakhpur and Phulpur.
In Wednesday's results of the two by-elections, SP's Praveen Kumar Nishad won Gorakhpur by defeating BJP's Upendra Dutt Shukla by 21,961 votes. Nagendra Pratap Singh Patel won Phulpur in Allahabad by defeating BJP's Kaushlendra Singh Patel by 59,613 votes. The Congress candidates lost security deposits in both seats.
These are massive reverses for BJP as UP Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath had held Gorakhpur for five terms and vacated the seat to head the state government after BJP's sweep in last year's Assembly elections.
His now-deputy Keshav Prasad Maurya held Phulpur — a seat once represented by India's first PM Jawaharlal Nehru that BJP won for the first time in 2014 when Narendra Modi swept to power at the Centre.
The rare tie-up between Akhilesh Yadav's SP and Mayawati's BSP is also being seen as a test case for a larger Opposition grouping before the 2019 general elections.
"We accept the verdict of the people. It's unprecedented. Somehow, overconfidence was one of the reasons for it," said Adityanath who was the face of BJP's campaign and had described the bypolls as a dress rehearsal for 2019.
"SP, BSP and Congress were separate, but in the middle of the elections, they came together. We failed to understand it. We will form a strategy to tackle this political trading," said the CM who completed his first year in office in UP on March 19.
"Local issues are crucial in bypolls. In 2019, there will be different issues. PM Modi's development agenda will play a role then," said Adityanath, whose personal image has also taken a beating in the twin shock defeats.
Gorakhpur and Phulpur were the most difficult to be won from BJP that got 71 of UP's 80 Lok Sabha seats in 2014. Adityanath's deputy Maurya also conceded: "BSP successfully transferred its (Dalit) votes to SP."
SP chief Yadav thanked Mayawati for her support to his party. "It's a message that social justice forces have regrouped and will throw communal forces out of power. The results are an indication to what is in store for BJP in 2019," he said. He said that people have given a befitting reply to BJP's "political arrogance, wrongdoings and anti-people policies."
The SP-BSP experiment, done after more than two decades, is likely to be consolidated further when Congress and other non-BJP parties form an alliance ahead of 2019.
Congress president Rahul Gandhi said the electorate is very angry against BJP and will vote for the non-BJP candidate most likely to win. "Congratulations to the winning candidates. Congress will look forward to 'Navnirman' in Uttar Pradesh, it won't happen overnight," he said.