The defeat of the Bharatiya Janata Party in all six Lok Sabha seats where by-elections were held this year has sounded alarm bells in the party in Uttar Pradesh ahead of the 2019 Parliamentary polls, while stoking speculation about the Opposition stitching an alliance together to take the BJP on after tasting success in the recent bypolls.
The BJP failed to break the jinx of repeated failures in Parliamentary by-elections in 2018 when it was defeated yesterday in Gorakhpur, the bastion of Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath, and Phulpur, earlier held by deputy Chief Minister Keshav Prasad Maurya.
The ruling party's candidates in the two constituencies lost to the Samajwadi Party (SP), triggering a debate on whether political outfits opposed to the BJP could forge a mega alliance before the 2019 Lok Sabha polls.
The SP, supported by the BSP, romped home in the bypolls.
SP's Pravin Nishad defeated Upendra Dutt Shukla of the BJP by 21,961 votes in Gorakhpur, a seat which had been with the BJP since 1989. Nagendra Pratap Singh Patel of SP cornered the Phulpur seat, drubbing the saffron party's Kaushalendra Singh Patel by 59,460 votes.
As the results of the two by-election were declared yesterday, Adityanath said there was a "lesson" to be learnt from the outcome, and cited over-confidence and the inability to understand the implications of the pact between SP and BSP as the prime reasons for the BJP's defeat.
UP Congress spokesperson Ashok Singh told PTI the outcome had brightened the prospects of the formation of a "maha gathbandhan" (grand alliance) ahead of the 2019 polls to defeat the saffron party.
"We will ponder seriously about a larger alliance keeping the next Lok Sabha polls in mind," he said.
The Congress had contested the 2017 UP Assembly polls jointly with the SP and might want to tackle the polls together next year, too, another senior party leader told PTI, requesting that he not be named.
The outcome of the March 11 bypolls has sparked talk in political circles about a continuing pact between the SP and the BSP -- once bitter critics in Uttar Pradesh.
SP chief Akhilesh Yadav thanked BSP head Maywati, his former arch-rival, for the support the Bahujan Samaj Party gave the SP candidates in the by-elections.
"Foremost I want to thank BSP leader Mayawati for her and her party's support in this important fight," he told the media yesterday.
Though he did not take any questions on prospects of an alliance in the next Lok Sabha polls, saying that all he wanted to do for the present was thank the parties which had helped SP in its "grand" victory, there is conjecture about the parties coming together to fight the BJP.
The prospect of an anti-BJP alliance meeting with electoral success was also highlighted in Bihar, where Lalu Prasad's RJD retained the Araria Lok Sabha seat. Its nominee Sarfaraz Alam beat the BJP's Pradeep Kumar Singh by over 60,000 votes, dealing a blow to the JD(U)-BJP alliance, which went to the hustings for the first time after Nitish Kumar returned to the NDA fold last July.
There is growing concern in the BJP which has lost all the Lok Sabha by-elections held in 2018.
"This defeat is definitely an unexpected one," said UP BJP spokesperson Rakesh Tripathi. He said the possible causes would be analysed at length.
"There were some shortcomings which will be reviewed at the micro-level," he said.
Another senior UP BJP leader said the results had sounded "alarm bells" in the party.
Apart from Gorakhpur and Phulpur (UP) and Araria (Bihar), the party was defeated in the bypolls in Ajmer and Alwar (Rajasthan) and Uluberia (West Bengal).
In Rajasthan, both the seats were won by the Congress --- Raghu Sharma in Ajmer and Karan Singh Yadav in Alwar.
The BJP was defeated in Uluberia, too, with the seat going to Sajda Ahmed of the Trinamool Congress.
Wednesday's shocker for the BJP came days after its surprise win in three northeastern states, including Tripura, where it scripted history, demolishing the Left citadel of 25 years and forming its first government in the state. Together with its regional allies, the BJP also formed its governments in Nagaland and Meghalaya.
A consolidation of OBC, Dalit and Muslim votes powered SP candidates to victory in Gorakhpur, a seat represented by Adityanath for five successive terms, and Phulpur, which elected Maurya in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls.
The two leaders had won their seats by margins of over 3 lakh votes, with Phulpur going to the BJP for the first time.
In the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, Maurya defeated his SP rival Dharam Raj Singh Patel by a record margin of 3.08 lakh votes, while Aditynath bagged Gorakhpur, defeating SP's Rajmati Nishad by 3,12,783 votes.