'For the BJP to lose this virtual pocket borough of the saffron brotherhood demonstrates how resolutely the people of Gorakhpur have turned against the party,' says Amulya Ganguli.
IMAGE: Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath garlands his mentor Mahant Avaidyanath's statue in Gorakhpur.
Avaidyanath and Adityanath represented Gorakhpur in the Lok Sabha since 1989. Photograph: PTI Photo
It is now clear that the Modi phenomenon which had a mesmerising effect on the country from 2013 to about six months ago has dissipated, at least in mainland India.
The magic of his popularity may still work in the country's periphery, as the Tripura election results showed.
But it is fading out elsewhere.
Signs of this ebbing tide could be seen in Gujarat towards the end of last year where the BJP escaped defeat by the skin of its teeth.
After that the prime minister's diminishing appeal was seen in the BJP's setbacks in the Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh by-elections.
But nowhere has the party's dwindling appeal been more starkly apparent than in the UP parliamentary by-elections.
It is the outcome in Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath's bailiwick of Gorakhpur which has shown how quickly the BJP is going downhill.
As is known, the saffron-robed monk-politician with a shaven head won five Lok Sabha terms from this constituency where he is the head priest of the Gorakhnath temple.
His mentor, Mahant Avaidyanath, had also been elected four times from Gorakhpur before Adityanath stepped into his spiritual and political shoes.
For the BJP to lose this virtual pocket borough of the saffron brotherhood demonstrates how resolutely the people of the constituency have turned against the party.
Neither Modi's promise of achhe din nor BJP President Amit A Shah's supposedly invincible election machine could stop the Samajwadi Party candidate, Praveen Kumar Nishad.
It was the same story in Phulpur, where UP Deputy Chief Minister Keshav Prasad Maurya was a candidate.
It is Adityanath's defeat, however, which will have stunning effect on the BJP.
The firebrand, who had set off the 'love jihad' programmes before becoming chief minister to discourage Hindu-Muslim romances, was apparently being groomed by the Sangh Parivar as Modi's successor.
He was also much in demand from the party to campaign in poll-bound states.
It is now unlikely that he will address election meetings in Karnataka which will go to the polls in a few weeks' time. At least, not with his usual gusto.
He may also cut down on his latest initiatives in UP on the gunning down of criminals by the police in 'fake' encounters.
What these results suggest is that, first, the BJP may have already lost Karnataka, for the party will be too demoralised to put up a determined fight.
Besides, Modi's usual bluster at public rallies may evoke more derision than admiration.
Secondly, there is little chance of the BJP repeating its 2014 performance in the Lok Sabha.
Far from securing a majority on its own, even the NDA will be hard put to touch the 272 mark.
The BJP's explanation for its drubbing in UP will be the caste-based ganging up of the Samajwadi Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party against it with their 40 per cent vote share, which could be seen in the 2017 assembly election.
The BJP will also hope that the 'impure' alliance of the two parties, to quote Adityanath, which were compared by the chief minister with a snake and a mongoose, would soon fall apart, making the people realise their mistake (as the Janata Party's supporters did in 1980) and rush back to the BJP.
But that is in the future.
For the present, the worries of the BJP and the RSS will be, who will lead the party if it becomes even more clear in the coming days that Modi has lost his elan.
There is no one else. Not even Adityanath.
Will the BJP be a kati patang (a floating kite) again, to use Arun Shourie's cruel phrase after its 2004 defeat?
Arguably, the BJP's success in 2014 was an aberration.
It was based on a series of accidents -- the hyping up of the Congress' involvement in scams by Anna Hazare and others, the Manmohan Singh government's policy paralysis because of Sonia Gandhi's scuttling of the economic reforms at the behest of the crypto-Communists in the National Advisory Council, Modi's successful palace coup where he ousted L K Advani and other future margdarshaks (visionaries) and his emergence as one of the most effective public speakers in recent memory.
But 2019 will be different where Modi will come up against different players in different states -- the bua-bhatija (Mayawati-Akhilesh Yadav) combine in UP, a resurgent RJD in Bihar after its victories in the Araria and Jehanabad parliamentary by-polls, an ever-combative Mamata Banerjee in West Bengal, a successful Congress in Karnataka, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh.
It will not be easy for the BJP to save the kati patang.
Amulya Ganguli is a writer on current affairs.