Samajwadi Party president Akhilesh Yadav's 'indifference' towards the campaign in Azamgarh and Rampur and the apparent drift of Muslims from his party may have contributed to the stunning loss of the two prestigious Uttar Pradesh constituencies in the Lok Sabha bypolls.
In contrast to the inertia in the SP camp, the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party showed no complacency in the run-up to the polls this month.
Even though the party had registered a resounding victory in the assembly election just months back, it kept the momentum, political observers say.
Azamgarh, which was vacated by SP president Akhilesh Yadav after the assembly polls in February-March, went to the Bharatiya Janata Party this time.
Rampur, another SP bastion held till recently by party veteran Azam Khan, too was wrested by the ruling party.
The SP's time-tested Muslim-Yadav formula failed, and the Bharatiya Janata Party's MY (Modi-Yogi) scored.
Although the SP attributed its defeat to the 'misuse of official machinery,' the saffron party might have made a dent in the SP's Muslim voter base by playing up its 'development' agenda.
In Azamgarh, Mayawati's Bahujan Samaj Party played spoilsport for the SP, which had won there both in 2014 and 2019 despite the Narendra Modi 'wave'.
The BJP's Dinesh Lal Yadav 'Nirahua' got 34.39 per cent of the votes polled and the SP's Dharmendra Yadav lost after bagging a shade less at 33.44 per cent, according to the results declared on Sunday.
Clearly, BSP candidate Guddu Jamali's 29.27 per cent vote share made the crucial difference in the constituency, which like Rampur has a sizeable Muslim population.
"Since the BSP fielded a Muslim candidate, the Muslims got confused and they drifted towards it. This gave an upper hand to the BJP," an SP member of the legislative council told PTI.
The MLC also referred to Akhilesh Yadav's absence from the campaign, which the Suheldev Bhartiya Samaj Party leader and an SP ally Om Prakash Rajbhar might have alluded to in a jibe last month.
He said the SP chief had become too used to air-conditioned rooms.
"If party chief Akhilesh Yadav had campaigned for the candidate Dharmendra Yadav, the party would have definitely registered a win from Azamgarh," the MLC claimed.
Another SP MLC, Ashutosh Sinha, attributed the defeat 'solely' to the 'tacit understanding between the BJP and the Bahujan Samaj Party.'
The absence of Azam Khan's family members in the election also dampened the enthusiasm of many Muslim voters in Rampur.
Azam Khan handpicked Asim Raja, seen by many as a lightweight candidate, for the SP.
Reports indicated a low voter turnout even in Azam Khan's Sadar and son Abdullah Azam's Suar assembly segments, factors that hurt the chances of the SP candidate in Rampur. But in Shahbad and Bilaspur assembly seats held by BJP, there appeared to be overwhelming support for BJP nominee Ghanshyam Lodhi.
The elections took place amid apparent fissures within the SP that surfaced after the opposition party's defeat in the assembly polls.
Observers say Azam Khan, who fought and won the assembly elections while he was in jail, was upset that the party chief hadn't bothered to visit him there. His supporters saw this as a sign that the SP is now taking Muslims for granted.
Akhilesh Yadav's preference for a fellow Yadav in Azamgarh too might have reinforced that perception in Azamgarh, where a sizeable section of the community is believed to have voted for BSP's Guddu Jamali.
SP spokespersons don't agree with this narrative.
Mubarkpur MLA and Akhilesh Yadav's namesake, claimed that the BJP government intimidated the voters in Azamgarh.
"Small traders, village pradhans, block development council members were threatened by officials. The BJP resorted to widespread rigging in the polls," he told PTI.
Akhilesh Yadav made similar accusations. In a Muslim area in Rampur, he claimed only six of the 900 votes were cast. In another, just one voter turned out, according to the SP chief.
SP MLC Ashutosh Sinha dismissed the BJP claim that that the results on Sunday were a reflection of what is to come in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, "as this election was fought between the SP on one side and the BJP, the BSP and the government machinery on the other."