By-poll defeats should prepare Modi and Amit Shah for what losing feels like

Though the loss cannot be taken as a true indicator of the national political pulse, the BJP and its allies would be ignoring the signs at their own peril.

 |  5-minute read |   01-06-2018
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Results of the latest round of by-elections to four Lok Sabha and 11 Assembly seats across 11 states in which the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) retained only one Lok Sabha seat in Maharashtra and an Assembly seat in Uttarakhand ring an alarm bell for the saffron party, which is governing the Centre and 22 out of 29 states.

Things are looking equally ominous for BJP's allies such as Janata Dal (United) and Shiromani Akali Dal, which lost one seat each in Bihar and Punjab to Opposition parties. The Opposition parties are upbeat, the jewel in their crown being the Kairana Lok Sabha seat in Uttar Pradesh, yet another laboratory test for the Opposition unity.

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Though by-polls cannot be taken as a true indicator of the national political pulse, the BJP and its allies would be ignoring the signs at their own peril. By-elections can be seen as a sort of a bellwether, especially when they are held simultaneously in a significant number of seats in so many states.

Here are the possible pointers and decoders:

BJP versus united Opposition

Kairana has shown yet again that the mighty BJP can be humbled if the entire Opposition comes together. The Opposition-BJP fight doesn't necessarily become a David-versus-Goliath contest if the entire Opposition were to take on the BJP together and that too in a pre-poll alliance format.

The Opposition demonstrated it recently in Gorakhpur and Phulpur Lok Sabha by-polls — seats vacated by chief minister Yogi Adityanath and deputy chief minister Keshav Maurya respectively — when it wrested these seats from the BJP.

Kairana marks a hat-trick of Lok Sabha by-poll losses for the BJP and that too in a politically significant state like Uttar Pradesh where the BJP stunned everyone last year winning 322 of 403 seats or over a three-fourth majority on its own in Assembly elections.

After the Gorakhpur-Phulpur loss, Adityanath had said that the party workers were overconfident and took these elections lightly and had assured the central leadership that this won't be repeated in future.

Yet, history repeated itself so soon for the high-profile CM, who has emerged as the second best poster boy of the party after prime minister Narendra Modi for election campaigns across the country. In this respect, Karnataka Assembly polls proved to be a watershed moment in contemporary politics.

The camaraderie displayed by virtually the entire Opposition in Bengaluru continues to pay dividends. Adityanath himself and his entire cabinet campaigned intensively in Kairana and PM Modi addressed a public rally in next door Baghpat just a day before polling. In contrast, the top brass of Samajwadi Party, Bahujan Samaj Party and Congress, which supported the Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD) candidate, Tabassum Hasan, kept away from the campaign in Kairana. And yet the BJP lost.

However, there is a flip side too. The victory margin of Tabassum Hasan over the BJP's candidate in Kairana was a little less than 45,000, a slender margin considering that the Lok Sabha constituency has 16 lakh voters. The Opposition should be mindful of this point and also remember that in the next general election they will be up against Modi himself, who will be carpet-bombing the poll campaign in UP during the next general elections.

The Meghalaya setback

A collateral damage of these by-polls for the BJP is that a Karnataka repeat is on the cards and the Congress is set to stake claim in Meghalaya and oust the Conrad Sangma government where the BJP is an alliance partner (albeit with just two seats in the 60-member Assembly) as Congress is set to stake claim for forming government being the single largest party after Thursday's win.

After winning the Ambati Assembly by-poll, the Congress now has 21 members and is the single-largest party in the Assembly, while its nearest rival, the National People's Party (NPP) has 20 members.

Ambati has once again tilted the political scales in the hung Assembly. After the February Assembly elections, the Congress had emerged as the single-largest party with 21 seats but its victory was short-lived as the party tally came down to 20 after Mukul Sangma gave up his seat.

On the other hand, rival NPP gained a seat after winning from Williamnagar, election to which had been countermanded earlier after NCP candidate Jonathone Sangma was killed in a rebel attack. Post Karnataka, it would be difficult for Meghalaya governor, KK Paul, to ignore the claim of the single-largest party.

Politics of allies

It's a double whammy for the BJP: First, it's not getting new allies and the present ones are like estranged partners; second, whatever allies it has have a foot on the banana peel in terms of electoral performance.

The Shiromani Akali Dal recently lost Punjab state Assembly polls. Now, they have lost the Shahkot Assembly by-poll. Similarly, the infamous political turncoat Nitish Kumar is also on slippery ground after Jokihat Assembly by-poll loss.

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The Maharashtra pointer shows another ally Shiv Sena to be on the backfoot — this when the Opposition parties like the CPI(M) and Trinamool Congress held on to their seats in Kerala and West Bengal, respectively. In contrast, the Opposition is upbeat as the number of like-minded anti-BJP parties is constantly swelling, the latest case being that of the Congress gaining Janata Dal (Secular) in Karnataka, which has 28 Lok Sabha seats.

In the final analysis, it will be premature to say that the same results may see a repeat at the national level in 2019. These by-polls have served one purpose — sending warning signals to the BJP that its Mission 2019 is in doldrums and demonstrating wonders that opposition unity can create. However, neither is definitive and for both camps the situation can still reverse.

The by-poll results have confirmed the worst fears of Narendra Modi-Amit Shah combine as a united Opposition threatens to stop the BJP juggernaut in 2019. Now, expect the unexpected from Modi-Shah and their out-of-the-box response may well be playing the Hindutva card more strongly than ever.

Also read: UP by-poll results is a slap in the face of BJP's Hindutva politics 

Writer

Rajeev Sharma Rajeev Sharma @kishkindha

The writer is an independent journalist and a strategic analyst.

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