LUCKNOW: This is not first time that Uttar Pradesh has upset the calculations of national politics. Both in 2014 and 2017, UP gave resounding, almost 'abnormal' mandates. UP electorate made BJP invincible. But the same electorate handed out a humiliating verdict yesterday. Suddenly, it seems as if BJP's decline has begun.

UP's 'odd' political behaviour is actually dialectical. It has roots in the unique socio-economic structure of the region and its history

But more of that later; first, lets crack the mystery of how two seemingly impregnable Hindutva fortresses fell down in one day.

There are two extreme views here--one that sees a larger Modi-RSS gameplan of 'losing battles to win wars'. In this, it is believed that Modi sacrificed Gorakhpur and Phoolpur to either undercut Yogi and Keshav Prasad Maurya...or to lull the opposition with a sense of pyrrhic victory.

Still, adventurous souls would say, that the by-poll victories were engineered to divert attention from EVM malfunction. And that a pattern of BJP losing by-elections and winning State or Central elections is becoming obvious.

While the EVM issue is genuine and requires a detailed explanation, more important perhaps, is to dispel the notion about Modi as the 'master strategist' of Gorakhpur and Phoolpur.

However tempting, this notion does not hold. While it is true that PM Modi would like to clip the wings of UP Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath, he would not have wished the same for Keshav Prasad Maurya.

Secondly, BJP cannot risk settling scores or indulging in political brinkmanship in by-polls, the symbolic message of which impacts the BJP directly--after all, more than Yogi and Maurya, Gorakhpur and Phoolpur imply defeat of Modi and BJP. The lay voter was voting as much against Modi's policies as on local issues. Besides such results tend to cast a shadow, howsoever small on state elections with Karnataka Assembly polls around the corner.

UP's socio-economic structure is both its bane and boon, one can say; while applying the Permanent Settlement--the British Zamindari system--from Bengal onwards--Cornwallis died at Ghazipur, just on the UP-Bihar border. The Bengal type Zamindari system was never applied to the whole of UP.

The area had its own, home-grown Talukedari system. But Pattidari-Biswadaari-Hissedaari vyavastha--a sort of co-parcanery, 'joint' holding of land, remained the norm. This gave a communitarian, dynamic, non-static character to UP peasantry. It also created a political space where the 'landlord' was more like a chieftan--a custodian of common values, with a responsibility to pay taxes to the Government on behalf of the community, but without exclusive rights over land.

The chieftan thus, enjoyed cultural-caste continuity with the peasants. He was 'their' man who dealt with the State, not an official who represented the State. Any narrative on UP is incomplete without 1857--and the reason why UP fought till the bitter end, almost village by village, lies in the 'notion' of common ownership of land.

The East India Company Bengal Native Infantry soldiers who triggered India's first Independence war, were pattidari peasants, communitarian, 'bhai-bandhus' in uniform. The Talukedars of Awadh who fought to the last man, were acting under tremendous pressure from below of their own kinsmen.

This 'pressure from below' is a stand-alone UP feature.

If you compare 1993--the last time when SP-BSP were together--and 2018--when the two forces came together to defeat BJP in a stunning verdict--there is a marked difference.

The 93' alliance was stitched by Mulayam Singh Yadav and BSP founder Kanshiram from the top. The Dalit-OBC unity and slogans like 'Hawa Men Ud Gaye Jai Shree Ram', were generated from the top.

In 2018, the pressure of subaltern forces to unite has come from below.

Caught in 93' mould, the BJP too took Mayawati's support to Akhilesh lightly. The BJP failed to read the ground situation. Modi and RSS, along with Adityanath of course, were unable to grasp the tremendous reaction, at the grassroot level, among the poor against their policies.

This time the slogan-- Haathi, Laathi-786, signifiying a Dalit-OBC-Muslim alliance emerged from the people,during the course of the campaign.

The results also, are not a mere defeat of the Adityanath factor and the like--attention should not be diverted from the reality: that the BJP defeat was a result of a quasi-spontaneous reaction against Modi-RSS right wing ideology and politics by the poor and the minorities.

Modi, the politician, had sensed the urge among UP poor--especially their disgust at the new-rich that emerged in UP politics in the 1990s. Demonetisation was done for UP--and it was in UP that the issue played out like a pin-striped class struggle, where the poor gleefully clapped against the perceived, 'notebandi', discomfiture of the brash neo-rich thekedar, driving a Fortuner.

In the 2017 UP Vidhan Sabha polls, Modi was able to create a new constituency of the ‘Hindu poor’. In caste and class terms, this translated into a huge power block of Most Backward Castes, lower rung of OBCs, the middle class of the upper castes etc. This ‘Hindu poor’ was assertive--it wrung the Muslim out and indulged in mass religious hysteria.

The poor have always been at the center of UP politics. But Modi communalised the majority of the Hindu poor. Then he gave them the license to bash the 'other', the Muslim. Modi gave them Yogi--a 'mendicant'-politician, capable of engaging the poor in mass religosity.

Modi-Yogi gameplan was clear--to keep the Hindu poor, the youth and peasantry busy through small pageants--so that the loot of resources, the political beyrayals on loan-waivers, the drop in subsidies, the whittling down of the PDS system, acute distress of the farmer, unemployment, did not become issues of agitation.

But the 'Hindu poor' were not satisfied with 'Kanwariya yatras'. 'Cow protection' degenerated into stray cattles ruining crops and fields of the peasants. The swelling up of rural anger against BJP could be seen in local body results during November-December 2017, in which BJP saw a downfall of 10% vote.

Analysts would be tempted to see BJP's defeat as accruing through the sheer size of SP-BSP (Dalit+OBC) alliance. But, the leaders of this alliance were themselves shocked by its scale. They were simply taken aback by the assertion of their people!

In UP, there is also the quasi-rational behaviour of the mass--the 'Janata'. Source code EVM/firmware tampering is fact--but you need either a certain threshold and margin level for the process to kick in; the beneficiary should be trailing by a wide margin, say 20,000 votes, for the 'tampering' or 'stealing the votes of others' to be effective. Unless and untill the margin is significant, any tampering could be counter-productive. In Gorakhpur and Phoolpur, the margin never became wide at least till the 25th or the 28th round of counting.

What about 2019? Well, it is obvious that mere stitching together of an alliance at the top will not serve the purpose. The by-poll verdict is clearly anti-communal and anti-government in nature. Behind the verdict lies subaltern anger--but, and this is crucial, SP and BSP do not have the intellectuals or a program that offers an alternative to Modi’s socio-economic agenda.

The ideology, the policy alternatives are those with Red flags--but the masses in the crucial Hindi Belt are with non-left forces, themselves a victim of the neo-rich phenomenon.

Once upon a time, by espousing and practicing Left-of-Center, secular politics, the Congress had resolved this contradiction. Congress' Left-democratic politics in UP was singular, as it stood on a framework, not of atheism or western liberalism, but on socio-religious pluralism, cultural syncretism (Ganga-Jamuni Tehzeeb) and a pro-justice, pro-poor plank based on the underlying unity of Sanatan Dharma and Islam. This was also the 1857 legacy.

Will the Congress rise to the occasion? Are the SP-BSP going to develop an anti-liberalization, pro-poor, alternative, policy framework, taken from Ram Manohar Lohia or B.R. Ambedkar, for their constituencies? Or is Modi going to come up with a new weapon to once again polarise the 'Hindu poor' against the Muslims? Or is UP going to see the rise of new forces with a vision and ideology suited to the State's current needs?

2019 cannot be fought on the old plank of electoral politics...