In the Uttar Pradesh by-poll, which was pegged as a curtain raiser to the 2019 general election, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) today suffered a body blow, losing the Lok Sabha seats of Gorakhpur and Phulpur to the Samajwadi Party (SP).
The Akhilesh Yadav-led SP, which was backed by Mayawati's Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) in the UP by-poll, won Gorakhpur by a margin of 21,961 votes and Phulpur by a margin of 59,613 votes.
While Phulpur was seen as a close contest after the two regional rivals joined forces, BJP was expected to retain Gorakhpur, where the saffron party has been in power since 1991. Not only is it a seat which Adityanath has won five times in the past two decades, it is home to the Goraknath Math, the temple he leads.
In Gorakhpur, SP's Praveen Kumar Nishad won 4,56,437 votes, while BJP's Upendra Dutt Shukla came in second with 4,34,476 votes.
Conceding defeat on Wednesday, Adityanath said that BJP's over confidence and its failure to understand the nature of the SP-BSP tie-up were responsible for this setback. The chief minister said that the BJP would strategize on how to combat a potential SP-BSP alliance in the 2019 election. "I congratulate the victorious candidates from Gorakhpur and Phulpur," he said.
While addressing the media, Yadav thanked Mayawati and the voters of both constituencies. Lashing out at Adityanath, the SP leader recalled the chief minister's recent remarks in the floor of the House - "I do not celebrate Eid, I am a Hindu and I am proud of it." The former chief minister said that UP had responded to BJP's mis-governance. "If this is the anger of people in the constituencies of the chief minister and the deputy chief minister, can you can imagine the anger of the people of the rest of the country," he said.
Meanwhile, the Congress Party candidates in Phulpur and Gorakhpur lost their deposits in the by-poll.
The results today will only deepen speculation of a SP-BSP alliance for the 2019 general election. The SP, a champion of the Other Backward Classes (OBCs) and the Muslims in UP, and the BSP, an exponent of the Dalits, were routed by the BJP in the 2014 Lok Sabha election and the 2017 Assembly election.
Earlier this month, Mayawati had cautioned against reading too much into her party's support for the SP in the two constituencies, calling it a short-term deal in exchange of SP lawmakers voting in favor of BSP leaders in the Rajya Sabha polls, later this month.
But many regard the SP-BSP tie up in the UP by-poll as a test run for 2019.
In the run up to the election, Adityanath had likened the SP-BSP partnership to "the coming together of a mongoose and a snake when a storm brews."
Following the election results, Deputy Chief Minister Maurya, who had won the Phulpur seat by a huge margin during the Modi wave in 2014, admitted that the BJP had not anticipated that the BSP would manage to transfer its votes to the SP.
Speaking to the news agency, ANI, Maurya said, "We will analyze after the final results. If the BSP, SP and Congress plan on coming together in the 2019 election then we will make a strategy to deal with the situation," he said.
UP, however, was not the only state where the BJP suffered electoral losses today.
In the Lok Sabha and Assembly by-polls in Bihar, seen as a test run for the alliance between Nitish Kumar's Janata Dal United JD(U) and the BJP, the saffron party suffered major setbacks.
Lalu Prasad Yadav's Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) won the Lok Sabha constituency of Araria by 61,988 votes, winning 5,09,334 votes, while BJP received 4,47,346 votes.
BJP, however, eked out one victory by retaining its Assembly seat of Bhabua, where Rinki Rani Pandey defeated Shambhu Singh Patel of the Congress Party. In the Assembly seat of Jehanabad, RJD's Suday Yadav defeated Abhiram Sharma of the JD(U).
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