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With Thursday’s defeat, BJP has lost in all three major regions of UP in the past two months — in east (Gorakhpur), central (Phulpur) and west (Kairana and Noorpur). The twin defeats once again underline the challenge BJP faces in the state which was so crucial for its victory in 2014. The Kairana loss signals that a united opposition can bring down BJP’s LS tally substantially from the 71 it notched in 2014.
Besides Kairana, Noorpur specially accentuates how the opposition unity has come into play. The bypoll was necessitated by the death of BJP MLA Lokendra Singh, whose widow Avani Singh was fielded by the party. She polled 89,000 votes, about 10,000 more than her husband, but lost to the SP candidate by nearly 5,600 votes as there was no division of opposition votes.
In Kairana, too, BJP nominee Mriganka Singh polled more than 4.36 lakh votes in a low turnout contest, but failed to get past RLD’s Tabassum Hasan, who was backed by SP and Congress with tacit support from BSP. In 2014, Mriganka’s father Hukum Singh, who had been an eight-time MLA from Kairana, won the Lok Sabha seat by a margin of 2.36 lakh votes thanks to a division of opposition votes between SP, BSP and RLD.
While opposition unity was an overwhelming reason for BJP’s defeat
, factors like sugarcane farmers’ anger due to non-payment of dues, rising fuel prices and disenchantment among Dalits due to frequent caste riots in western UP, too, had a role to play. Besides, Muslims, who form about 40% of the electorate in both Kairana and Noorpur, voted en masse for the joint opposition candidates.
BJP’s landslide win in west UP in both 2014 LS and 2017 state polls was largely attributed to a sharp communal polarisation which saw a substantial chunk of Dalits along with Jats voting saffron.
However, this time issues like the row over Mohammad Ali Jinnah’s portrait at AMU failed to cut much ice among the Hindus. Rather, with dues to cane farmers rising up to Rs 13,000 crore, ‘ganna’ (sugarcane) factor proved much more potent in uniting cultivators of all faiths against the BJP government.
With the big battle of 2019 now less than a year away, BJP will have to draw an out-of-the-box strategy to take on a combined opposition.
At the same time, the result also suggests that parties’ failure to achieve perfect unity may help BJP scrape through in Lok Sabha polls.