Adding to the BJP’s string of electoral reverses in bypolls, Opposition parties Thursday won 11 of 14 assembly and Lok Sabha seats, including the Kairana parliamentary constituency in Uttar Pradesh, to send the ruling party a wake-up call in the run-up to the 2019 general elections. The saving grace for the BJP came from Maharashtra where it defeated the Shiv Sena in a keen contest for the Palghar Lok Sabha seat. In Uttarakhand, the BJP won the Tharali assembly seat while NDA partner NDPP took the Nagaland Lok Sabha seat.
Of the four Lok Sabha seats where bypolls were held, the score was 2-2 for the Opposition and the NDA — all the four seats were with the NDA earlier. The RLD-SP-BSP-Congress combine wrested Kairana from the BJP and the NCP-Congress alliance snatched the Bhandara-Gondiya Lok Sabha seat in Maharashtra.
But the silver lining for the BJP was its performance in West Bengal where it pushed the Left Front candidate to the third spot in the Maheshtala assembly election where the Trinamool Congress emerged victorious. Barring the Tharali seat, the BJP and its allies were defeated in the other nine assembly bypolls.
The BJP lost the Noorpur seat in Uttar Pradesh to the SP while allies Shiromani Akali Dal and JD(U) lost a seat each to the Congress and the RJD in Punjab and Bihar. The Congress bagged three seats — one each in Meghalaya, Karnataka and Punjab — while other Opposition parties won the remaining six — JMM took two in Jharkhand; CPI(M), SP, RJD and Trinamool Congress one each in Kerala, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and West Bengal, respectively.
While the Opposition celebrated the wins and claimed that the reverse countdown for the BJP had begun, Union home minister Rajnath Singh spoke for the ruling party: “For a massive leap, one always has to go two steps backward… We are going to take a massive leap.”
Kairana sent a second reminder from Uttar Pradesh where it had won 73 (with ally Apna Dal) of 80 Lok Sabha seats in 2014 and swept the assembly elections a year ago. The defeat in Kairana came close on the heels of the loss of the Gorakhpur and Phulpur Lok Sabha seats.
There were alarm bells for ally Nitish Kumar too in Bihar. The RJD’s Shahnawaz Alam defeated the JD(U)’s Murshid Alam by a margin of 41,000 votes in the Jokihat seat in the Muslim-dominated Araria district. The bypoll was necessitated because of the resignation of Alam’s elder brother and JD(U) MLA Sarfaraz Alam from the party after Kumar tied up with the BJP.
Soon after the result, RJD leader Tejashwi Yadav attacked Kumar, saying he should resign immediately if he has any conscience. JD(U) general secretary KC Tyagi attributed the defeat in Jokihat to “people’s reaction” over the hike in fuel price.
The defeat of the BJP in Kairana, coming as it does after the Gorakhpur and Phulpur setbacks in March, has strengthened the Opposition belief that if they are united, they can outsmart the BJP even in its strongholds. The defeat is also the second personal setback for chief minister Yogi Adityanath.
Kairana was in many ways an experiment in social engineering and seat sharing by the Opposition. Despite coming second in 2014, the SP agreed to back RLD candidate Tabassum Hasan, who defeated BJP rival Mriganka Singh by a margin of 44,618 votes. The BSP had come third in 2014.
The results show that the RLD’s Jat vote bank, the SP’s OBC and the BSP’s Dalit voter base responded to the combine’s call. For now, the Jats and Muslims, pitted against each other during and after the 2013 Muzaffarnagar riots, buried their differences — an area of concern for the BJP.
While the BJP retained the Palghar seat, it only deepened its divide with the Shiv Sena with which it shares power in Maharashtra. BJP’s Rajendra Gavit won the seat, defeating Shiv Sena’s Shrinivas Wanaga. The Congress won Shahkot in Punjab, Ampati in Meghalaya and RR Nagar in Karnataka. Trinamool’s Dulal Das won the Maheshtala bypoll in West Bengal. In Kerala, the Left’s Saji Cheriyan won the Chengannur bypoll. The JMM retained the Silli and Gomia seats in Jharkhand.
West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee said people were disenchanted with the BJP and that regional parties were very strong now. Congress leader Pramod Tiwari said the writing on the wall was clear. In Lucknow, the SP’s Akhilesh Yadav told reporters: “This is a defeat for those who do not believe in democracy and play divisive politics. People have given a befitting reply to the BJP. This is a victory for the farmers, poor and Dalits.”