UP results a setback not just for the BJP, but for Yogi Adityanath too

The BJP’s loss in eastern Uttar Pradesh where it was believed that Yogi Adityanath and Prime Minister Narendra Modi exerted big influence was significant.
PM Narendra Modi (R) interacts with Uttar Pradesh CM Yogi Adityanath.
PM Narendra Modi (R) interacts with Uttar Pradesh CM Yogi Adityanath.( File Photo )

The poor showing of the Bharatiya Janata Party in Uttar Pradesh has come as a surprise not only to those who believed in exit polls, but also to those who thought that the state's Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath was acceptable to all sections of society thanks to his assertive governing style.

The final tally of 36 for the BJP and allies and 43 for the Samajwadi Party-Congress alliance comes as a disappointment for BJP supporters and as a vindication for the non-BJP bloc.

The fact that the BJP performed very well in adjoining states like Uttarakhand, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Himachal Pradesh, Delhi, Bihar and Jharkhand makes the rejection in UP all the more harder to swallow for the party.

Akhilesh's star turn

On the other hand, the prize of 37 seats for the SP makes the party the second in the numbers tally of INDI alliance constituents, and catapults Akhilesh Yadav to a position next to Rahul Gandhi in the bloc's hierarchy. SP also emerged as the number one party in terms of seat tally in the state.

He would have got the number two position had his alliance formed the government but, despite the big win, Akhilesh has to be content with sitting in the opposition albeit with his stature having risen several notches among all opposition parties such as the TMC, DMK and AAP.

PM Narendra Modi (R) interacts with Uttar Pradesh CM Yogi Adityanath.
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For the Congress, the result signals a reaffirmation of Rahul Gandhi’s leadership, which had been under question because of repeated electoral setbacks to the party. Rahul, however, made it a point in the evening’s interaction with the media to refer to his sister Priyanka’s contribution to the party's performance.

Loss in eastern UP significant

An impression had gained ground that UP had become a stronghold of the BJP but the result has shattered this belief.

Also significant is the BJP’s loss in eastern Uttar Pradesh where it was believed that Yogi Adityanath and Prime Minister Narendra Modi exerted big influence from Gorakhpur and Varanasi, respectively.

Added to this is the loss in Ayodhya which comes as a big setback. After all, the consecration of the Ram Mandir in Ayodhya and the massive infrastructure push in the temple town is there for all to see.

Factors behind the BJP's poor performance

Other issues that could have contributed to the BJP’s dismal showing include the disenchantment of the youth with repeated disruptions and paper leaks of recruitment examinations. Lack of job creation and rising unemployment opportunities have added to this angst. Also, the stray cattle menace has been a sore point with farmers and those living in rural areas, as the damage to standing crops continues unabated.

The wrong choice of candidates in several places and the reluctance to replace candidates mid-way – as done by the SP and BSP – also cost the BJP some seats. Added to it was the disinterest shown by party workers and sympathisers in many cities and towns because of which many supporters did not venture out to vote.

PM Narendra Modi (R) interacts with Uttar Pradesh CM Yogi Adityanath.
Summer of discontent in the Hindi heartland

Besides the Ram Mandir in Ayodhya, the BJP had been banking on issues such as an end to appeasement policy, improved law and order situation, no incidence of communal riots, rise in industrial investment, creation of massive infrastructure such as expressways, highways and airports, and better coordination with Central government on several issues. It now emerges that the Ram Mandir has been accepted as a part of the country’s cultural and religious space as much as any other place of pilgrimage and, therefore, it is no longer an election issue.

What worked for the Opposition

The opposition campaign, on the contrary, was centred on caste issues and the holding of the caste census was a prominent promise, among other points. It was reiterated by both Akhilesh and Rahul Gandhi in their statewide joint campaign. The duo symbolised opposition unity since Akhilesh Yadav's impact was multiplied in the company of Rahul Gandhi and enhanced his appeal especially among the youth.

Another point that damaged the BJP was suspicion over what their government could do if it gets another term. This worry was more among the OBCs and Dalits amid allegations by opposition parties that the next BJP government could tamper with the Constitution and the reservation matrix.

What the results reveal

On hindsight, the entire campaign exposed the limited appeal of polarisation, and saw a revival of caste playing a dominant role. This is unlike it was in 2014 and 2019 when Modi's persona had almost obliterated caste divisions and the majority community had voted solidly for him and the party. It also emerges that repeated mention of matters related to faith does not appear to have gone down well with the people.

The fact that the BJP did very well in states like Andhra Pradesh and Odisha, winning the Assembly elections too, indicates its appeal in those parts of India where the party has never been in power. Contrast this with its performance in UP where Yogi won big in 2017 and posted a historic repeat in 2022 before this defeat for the party in 2024, without any overwhelming reasons.

It holds to reason that something very intrinsic could have led to the party’s poor performance. Another reason that might be revealed in coming days could be the disagreement within the party, and between the party and the government, over several issues.

Over the last five years, Yogi Adityanath has cultivated an image of being an assertive leader with his rising popularity. There had been speculations about his role in the national leadership. There are also indications that names of many candidates suggested by Yogi Adityanath were not accepted, and the results in these constituencies have been unfavourable for the party. Party sources say this had impacted the enthusiasm and morale of party workers and led to deepening internal divisions.

It is believed that all such issues could be discussed when the party reviews its performance in the state. At the same time, the performance of the Yogi Adityanath government, despite the resounding victory in 2022, will also be a subject of critical appraisal in the coming days. The Yogi model of governance combining quick decision-making, crackdown on criminal gangs and bulldozer action could come under the spotlight.

In the coming days, changes in the state's council of ministers, reshuffle in the bureaucracy, and corresponding changes at the Centre will also reflect where UP figures in the new scheme of things.

PM Narendra Modi (R) interacts with Uttar Pradesh CM Yogi Adityanath.
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