What the By-Poll Results Mean for National Politics

While the AAP must take stock of the current political climate, the BJP needs to wade away anti-incumbency that appears to be brewing in the states it rules.

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Beyond AAP’s severe loss, the larger political message of the results in the ten constituencies is mixed. Credit: PTI

New Delhi: While the BJP emerged as the biggest winner – securing five out of ten assembly seats – in the by-poll results that were announced on Thursday (April 13), it was the loss of Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) in Rajouri Garden assembly seat in Delhi that garnered more attention.

This was so because the Sikh-dominated Rajouri Garden had turned into a high-profile seat in the 2015 Delhi assembly election. Journalist-turned-AAP politician Jarnail Singh, infamous for throwing a shoe at P. Chidambaram in 2009 for his alleged failure to bring the perpetrators of 1984 anti-Sikh pogrom to task, took on political heavyweight and Shiromani Akali Dal (Badal) candidate Manjinder Singh Sirsa.

Such was his popularity that he defeated Sirsa by more than 10,000 votes in this small constituency. However, Jarnail had resigned from his seat last year to take on former Punjab chief minister Parkash Singh Badal on his home turf Lambi in the recently-held state elections.

Jarnail returned to Delhi after having lost the election but could not prevent an AAP rout in his original seat. The anti-incumbency against him resounded so clear that the AAP candidate Harjeet Singh finished a distant third with only a little more than 10,000 votes and lost his deposit.

Also read: Despite BJP Sweeping Rajouri Garden By-Poll, Congress Has Much to Celebrate

Sirsa, who contested as a BJP candidate in the by-poll that was held on April 9, defeated his nearest Congress rival Meenakshi Chandela by a margin of more than 14,000 votes.

What is interesting is that AAP, which had got around 47% votes in 2015, came down crashing with only about 13% of the votes. Despite winning the seat, BJP’s votes also came down substantially when compared to the 2015 figures. Congress, on the other hand, was the only party which gained a substantial share of votes, although it lagged behind BJP by a considerable margin.

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The blow to AAP comes just days ahead of the local body election in Delhi. While AAP still claims that it will win the municipality polls, political commentators believe that unless AAP takes serious stock of the current political climate and re-energises itself as a party, it may face more such defeats.

Beyond AAP’s severe loss, however, the larger political message of the results in the ten constituencies is clearly mixed, and at one level, unclear.

Ruling parties have conventionally emerged as winners in by-polls. This time around too similar pattern was seen but the results also threw up interesting exceptions.

The assembly constituencies where by-polls were held on Sunday are Rajouri Garden in Delhi, Littipara in Jharkhand, Nanjangud and Gundlupet in Karnataka, Dholpur in Rajasthan, Kanthi Dakshin in West Bengal, Ater and Bandhavgarh in Madhya Pradesh, Bhoranj in Himachal Pradesh and Dhemaji in Assam.

BJP won five seats, three of which were in Madhya Pradesh, Assam and Rajasthan – the states where it is ruling. Similarly, both seats in Karnataka went to the party in power, the Congress, while people voted the ruling Trinamool Congress to victory in the lone Bengal seat. If votes shares are counted, the biggest gainer has been Congress, which has substantially increased its votes in many of these seats.

The saffron party may rejoice over the fact that it managed to wrest the Delhi and Rajasthan seats from other parties. Apart from Rajouri Garden, the BJP also defeated the sitting Bahujan Samaj Party candidate in Dholpur.

Crucially, however, the saffron party had to face defeats in two seats in Jharkhand and Madhya Pradesh. First, in Jharkhand’s Littipara, it lost to Jharkhand Mukti Morcha, and second, in a tightly fought election, the BJP candidate lost to Congress in Ater, Madhya Pradesh.

Both Littipara and Ater had gone against the BJP in the previous elections as well. Despite this, the party’s inability to breach opposition’s strength in these constituencies may well be interpreted as anti-incumbency by other parties.

BJP leaders have already claimed that the BJP candidate winning from Bhoranj suggests that the party is headed for a victory in Himachal Pradesh, which goes to polls later this year. However, Bhoranj, too, had a sitting BJP legislator in the Congress-ruled state.

This trend points towards the dominance of local factors more than anything else. It may be far-fetched to see the result as one favouring the BJP, as the party leaders have claimed. While AAP surely has much to mull over, the saffron party also needs to wade away anti-incumbency alleged to be brewing against it in states where it is in power.