The loss of Gorakhpur will hurt chief minister Yogi Adityanath, and it will be more than the pain of an electoral defeat.

He has been more than just the local MP. He is, after all, head of the Goraksh peeth, the spiritual and temporal centre of a region where he has held unchallenged sway.

His rise as ‘chota mahant’ and claim to public support have been integral to ‘Brand Yogi’ that gained national attention ever since BJP’s leadership picked him for the UP CM’s job. The move to pitch Yogi as a mainstream neta saw him embark on a new journey as a Hindutva icon, an administrator and moderniser.

At a time when he has been in demand as a campaigner in the North-east, Gujarat, Kerala and Karnataka, the defeat on home turf is a blow. He had campaigned hard and SP’s win in a seat held by Yogi and his mentor Avaidyanath will dishearten followers; its ripples can go deeper in east UP.

BJP’s ascendancy in UP had led to Yogi being spoken of as a likely ‘national’ neta, who could take over the reins from PM Narendra Modi. This was more speculation, given Modi’s campaign and OBC roots are critical to BJP’s success in UP. This discussion may now cool off — rivals could sniff an opportunity to bring him down a peg or two.

The result cracks the veneer of invincibility that fort Gorakhpur had acquired and takes some of the sheen off BJP’s success in the UP municipal elections last year when it won 14 of 16 mayoral posts where it had none earlier. Not just his initiatives, but Yogi being an upper-caste Rajput who is also a monk, is key to BJP retaining its dominance in UP in the 2019 elections. BJP’s vote depends on upper-caste consolidation and the support of sections of OBCs and Dalits.

Sources close to the CM claim differences between the BJP government and the party was a big factor behind the loss. They say BJP workers canvassed with reluctance, to the extent that campaign material was not distributed. RSS volunteers were conspicuous by their absence.

The results show SP and BSP will present a formidable challenge. Yogi will need to come up with more innovative strategies to divide his rivals.