The Bharatiya Janata Party’s stunning defeat on Wednesday in bye-elections in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar may have complicated matters for the party in the Hindi belt. It lost the Gorakhpur and Phulpur Lok Sabha seats in Uttar Pradesh to the Samajwadi Party, which was backed by its arch-rival, the Bahujan Samaj Party. In Bihar, the BJP retained the Bhabua Assembly seat but failed to wrest the Araria Lok Sabha constituency and the Jehanabad Assembly seat from the Rashtriya Janata Dal.

The loss in Uttar Pradesh has left Chief Minister Adityanath totally besieged. Having virtually dismantled his Hindu Yuva Vahini private militia to appease the BJP and its mentor, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, Adityanath has now lost his bastion, Gorakhpur, which he ruled like a fiefdom for five consecutive Lok Sabha terms spanning two decades.

The Hindu Yuva Vahini had secured for Adityanath what seemed like near-total electoral invincibility. Gorakhpur was the seat of power from where he exercised hegemonic control over eastern Uttar Pradesh independent of the Sangh and the BJP – the party he has represented since he joined electoral politics in 1998. That was the year he won his first term as Gorakhpur MP.

Losing his army

It all started soon after Adityanath was appointed chief minister in March 2017. The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh started exerting pressure on him to dismantle the Hindu Yuva Vahini, which existed outside the purview of the Sangh Parivar, the family of Hindutva groups that owe allegiance to the RSS.

The Sangh feared that with Adityanath as chief minister, the Hindu Yuva Vahini would grow into a parallel Hindutva outfit with independent political ambitions that could possibly clash with those of the BJP at some point. The Sangh Parivar feared that Adityanath’s outfit could create a situation in the crucial state of Uttar Pradesh – which elects 80 of 542 Lok Sabha members – similar to that in Maharashtra, where the BJP has to contend with a rival Hindutva party, the Shiv Sena.

The Hindu Yuva Vahini had ensured Adityanath's near invincibility in elections. (Credit: Reuters)

Adityanath did not respond to the Sangh’s demand immediately. But when the pressure started mounting, he appears to have agreed to make the organisation inactive and dissolve units that refused to fall in line. Over the past few months, the Hindu Yuva Vahini has been hit by a spate of desertions by members across the state. These members have alleged neglect by the organisation’s senior leaders and pressure from the Sangh. Although the Hindu Yuva Vahini still boasts of a long list of office-bearers, in reality, it has almost ceased to exist in many places.

Seat of power

From its inception in 2002, the Hindu Yuva Vahini was designed to fulfil Adityanath’s electoral aspirations. The communal polarisation it sought to create in Gorakhpur and its neighbouring districts ensured that Adityanath’s victory margin of 7,000 votes in the 1999 general elections grew to 1.4 lakh votes in 2004, and crossed 3 lakh votes in 2009 and 2014. With its dismantling, Adityanath had already given up his main source of strength even before the bye-elections were held.

The loss is all the more stark because Gorakhpur had been under the control of the Gorakshapeeth temple for three decades. Between 1989 and 1998, it was represented in the Lok Sabha by Adityanath’s guru and the former mahant (head priest) of the temple, Avaidyanath.

The loss of Gorakhpur inflicts an almost irreparable damage to Adityanath’s personal clout. (Credit: Deepak Gupta / HT)

It is because of this that the loss of Gorakhpur exposes not just the vulnerability of the BJP in the Hindi belt but also inflicts almost irreparable damage to Adityanath’s personal clout.

This, taken with the virtual demise of the Hindu Yuva Vahini, practically destroys Adityanath’s fallback option and his independent status in the BJP, leaving him at the mercy of the RSS.