The BJP largely retained its winning streak in the Lok Sabha and assembly by-polls, the results of which are coming in today. The BJP’s biggest success was in Uttar Pradesh, where it smashed two Samajwadi Party (SP) bastions, Rampur and Azamgarh. The SP had won both Rampur and Azamgarh in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. However, the victors—Mohammad Azam Khan (Rampur) and Akhilesh Yadav, the SP president (Azamgarh)—resigned from their seats once they were elected to the state legislature in the 2022 assembly elections.
The SP’s choice of candidates reflected a degree of nonchalance in its attitude towards the by-polls as though it was a given that it would keep Rampur and Azamgarh. Akhilesh Yadav fielded his cousin, Dharmendra Yadav, who lost his Lok Sabha seat, Badaun to the BJP in 2019, despite winning thrice from here in 2004, 2009 and 2014. In Rampur, the SP put up Mohammad Asim Raja, a close aide of Azam Khan, although Khan was initially keen to field his wife. Yadav lost to the BJP’s Dinesh Lal Yadav Nirahua, a Bhojpuri poet, who lost to Akhilesh in 2019. Raja was trounced by Ghanshyam Singh Lodhi in Rampur.
The outcome indicated that the SP’s time-tested and durable social combination of the Muslims and Yadavs does not hold good any longer. Azamgarh in eastern UP has a large electorate of the Muslims and Yadavs, a reason why Akhilesh chose to fight from here, while Rampur in the western Rohilkhand belt has almost an equal number of Hindus and Muslims.
The contrast in the SP and the BJP’s approach to the by-polls was accentuated in their style of campaigning. While chief minister Yogi Adityanath campaigned twice each in these seats, Akhilesh confined his engagement to an “appeal” to voters on social media. He did not plunge into the heat and dust as he had in the 2018 Lok Sabha by-elections in Phulpur and Gorakhpur that were won by the SP which was then in alliance with the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP). The BSP only put up a candidate, Shah Alam alias Guddu Jamali, in Azamgarh and avoided Rampur. The Congress stayed away from the by-poll.
The SP’s official explanation for Akhilesh’s absence was that since the national leaders of the other parties in the fray, including the BJP, did not step in, there was no need for him to be present. To be noted is the fact that the SP has still not spread its wings beyond UP and is critically dependent on turning in victories in the state to keep a national presence.
In Azamgarh, where the BJP lost all the five assembly seats in March, Akhilesh left electioneering to his local functionaries and legislators while in Rampur, Raja’s election was managed by Azam Khan and his son, Abdullah Azam. Obviously sensing the shortfall in involvement, the SP’s allies, Om Prakash Rajbhar of the Suheldev Bharatiya Samaj Party and Sanjay Chauhan of the Janwadi Party, helped Dharmendra Yadav in Azamgarh. Rajbhar has consistently warned Akhilesh to emerge from his confine in Lucknow into the hinterland if he was to remain salient in UP politics. In Rampur, SP leader and Akhilesh’s uncle and confidant, Ram Gopal Yadav came belatedly to campaign for Raja.
On the other hand, the BJP came out with all guns blazing, knowing that a loss wasn’t just about bringing down its strength in Parliament but diminishing its prestige. It focussed more on Rampur which was thought to be a “tougher” seat although the BJP won from here thrice since Independence, in 1991, 1998 and 2014 while Azamgarh was a one-off success in 2004. Keshav Prasad Maurya, the deputy CM, was on the job.
By now a familiar component of its electoral toolkit, the BJP identified the social groupings which had to be addressed and picked an appropriate minister for the job. Suresh Khanna, the finance minister, reached out to the trading and business communities, Asim Arun to Dalits and Sandeep Singh, the grandson of the late Kalyan Singh, engaged with the backward caste Lodhs. Former Congressman Jitin Prasada met the town’s Brahmins.
In Azamgarh, minister Girish Chandra Yadav oversaw the exercise. Demography apart, what clicked in the BJP’s favour was the belief that electing a party candidate would establish a direct conduit with the powers in Lucknow and help speed up development works in Azamgarh and Rampur which the SP was in no position to.
The SP had hoped to consolidate the Muslim votes to its advantage in both the seats but that did not happen. The BSP candidate, a Muslim, took away a portion in Azamgarh. Muslims resented Akhilesh Yadav for his indifference towards their plight and his inability to take a stand on the travails they were subject to by the ruling party. The BJP managed to polarise the Hindu votes in its favour. The outcome has hit home the need for the Opposition to regroup and challenge the BJP.
In Punjab, the Aam Admi Party lost Sangrur to the Shiromani Akali Dal (Amritsar), months after it swept to power. The Congress and the Shiromani Akali Dal were stragglers in the race as was the BJP in a straight fight between the AAP and the SAD (A).
The only source of solace for the AAP was keeping the Rajinder Nagar assembly seat in Delhi which was vacated by its high-profile leader Raghav Chadha after he was elected to the Rajya Sabha. The BJP put up a high-decibel campaign but a breakthrough in Delhi eludes the party.
In Tripura, the BJP won three of the four assembly seats, the most significant being Town Bardowali which was contested by the chief minister, Manik Saha. The only seat the BJP lost, Agartala, went to Sudip Roy Barman, a former minister in the present government who quit the BJP and returned to the Congress after a fall-out with the ex-CM, Biplab Kumar Deb.