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Defeat of Ghosi’s ‘Aaya Ram, Gaya Ram’ delivers a blow to BJP

The ever-shifting political allegiances of Dara Singh Chauhan have taken a surprising twist with his defeat in the byelection.

Published : Sep 09, 2023 14:58 IST - 6 MINS READ

Samajwadi Party supporters celebrate the party’s victory in the Ghosi byelection in Lucknow on September 8.

Samajwadi Party supporters celebrate the party’s victory in the Ghosi byelection in Lucknow on September 8. | Photo Credit: ANI

When independent MLA Gaya Lal from Hassanpur in Haryana joined Congress in 1967 and then quit it within nine hours to join the United Front government, he was given the sobriquet of “Aaya Ram-Gaya Ram” (Ram in, Ram out): an identity to which he remained committed throughout his political life. In the Ghosi Assembly seat of Uttar Pradesh, the BJP candidate Dara Singh Chauhan seemed to have replicated the model, having changed parties at the drop of a hat. But lady luck did not smile for him this time.

In a morale booster to the INDIA alliance and a shock to the BJP-led NDA, Samajwadi Party (SP) candidate Sudhakar Singh won the Ghosi Assembly byelection on September 8, defeating Chauhan. The defeat of Chauhan has surprised many. Singh was the lone candidate from the opposition, with other parties such as the Congress and BSP not fielding anyone. While Mayawati’s Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), which has already announced to go solo in the 2024 Lok Sabha election, refrained from contesting the seat, the Congress backed the SP candidate. More than the victory, it is the margin of victory that has taken the political pundits by surprise. Singh, a former MLA from Ghosi (2012-2017), won the seat with a margin of 42,759 votes. He received 1,24,427 votes, while Chauhan managed to get 81,668 votes.

The byelection in OBC-dominated Ghosi took place at a time when the opposition parties have ratcheted up caste census demands. SP, by fielding Singh, a candidate from the upper-caste Rajput, has played a sort of gamble. The BJP fielded Chauhan keeping proper social engineering in mind. Chauhan—a serial party-hopper—from BSP to BJP and then SP before coming back to BJP again—is a powerful OBC leader, belonging to the Nonia caste from eastern Uttar Pradesh.

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Chauhan had been twice a Rajya Sabha member, first from the BSP in 1996 and then from the SP in 2000. He went back to the BSP in 2007 and won the Ghosi Lok Sabha seat in 2009. In 2014 when the BJP came to power, he turned saffron. The BJP made him the national in-charge of its OBC cell. In 2017, he joined Yogi Adityanath’s government as a minister. Again, before the 2022 Uttar Pradesh Assembly election, he joined the SP but did not stay there for more than one year and joined the BJP back in 2023.

Immediately after resigning from the SP in mid-July, he met Home Minister Amit Shah in Delhi and joined the party in Lucknow in the presence of State BJP leaders and promised to ensure the BJP’s victory in the State, claiming it would win all 80 Lok Sabha seats in 2024.

Yogi Adityanath was not present when Chauhan joined the party with his supporters. However, the Chief Minister did address an election rally in support of Chauhan last week, in which he had said about his return to the BJP as “subah ka bhula agar shaam ko ghar aa jaye to use bhatka hua nahi kehte (One is not considered lost if they lose their way in the morning but return home in the evening)“.

When Chauhan lost, the BJP put up a brave face, saying “winning and losing are two sides of a coin” as trends trickled in indicating the outcome. Jubilant over the victory, Akhilesh Yadav, former Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister, said this was “not only a political defeat but also a moral defeat of the BJP”.

BSP MP Danish Ali, whose party is not part of the INDIA alliance, said, “The priority of the common man in Uttar Pradesh is to defeat the BJP. This defeat of the BJP with such a huge margin despite all their attempts at social engineering and public meetings of the Chief Minister should be eye-opening.” Ali added that there was also talk of internal bickering in the BJP, but on the larger plain, this is indicative of the mood of the people of the State for the 2024 election. “As the BJP is heavily dependent on Uttar Pradesh and Gujarat for its 2024 show, this result could be a trendsetter.”

When pointed out that the BSP is not part of INDIA, Ali said, “The point is not that. People will see who is in a position to defeat the BJP. Here the option was clear.”

Tilting the balance

The defeat is remarkable as in 2022, Chauhan had won the same seat as the SP candidate, defeating the BJP candidate belonging to the Rajbhar community by more than 22,000 votes. This time the BJP is in alliance with Om Prakash Rajbhar-led Suheldev Bharatiya Samaj Party. Yet it lost the seat. Chauhan and Rajbhar communities together command nearly one lakh votes in the constituency, while upper-caste Hindus number around 75,000. This should have proved formidable for the BJP. Muslims-Yadavs put together are around 1.5 lakh. Dalits, who are around 50,000, seem to have gone with the SP this time, at least a sizeable chunk of them, tilting the balance.

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Treating Ghosi as a testing ground, Congress backed the SP candidate here even as the SP fielded a candidate in Bageshwar in Uttarakhand, where Congress was locked in a direct fight. In the 2017 State Assembly election, the Congress and the SP had an alliance while in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, the Congress and the BSP had gone for an alliance.

This time the BJP, whose vote share had reached 50 per cent in the 2019 Lok Sabha election and 42 per cent in the 2022 Assembly election, was locked in a direct contest with the SP in Ghosi. Hence, the victory will embolden the demand for a one-to-one contest against the BJP in the Lok Sabha. The Congress has indicated it is open to the idea of one-to-one contests in 400 out of 543 Lok Sabha seats.

The outcome of the Assembly byelection makes no difference to the Yogi government, which enjoys a brute majority of 280 in the 403-member Assembly, with 255 MLAs from the BJP alone. Before the elections, Akhilesh Yadav had said the election in Ghosi would create history and send a message to the entire country. Describing it as a victory of the INDIA coalition candidate, he said Uttar Pradesh will be the harbinger of change in power.

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