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New Delhi: Conventionally, any by-poll favours the ruling party unless there is severe disenchantment within the electorate of a poll-bound state. A similar disenchantment against the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) showed itself in some states on Tuesday, when results of three Lok Sabha constituencies and 29 assembly seats across 13 states came in.
The saffron party was handed humiliating defeats in Himachal Pradesh, where elections are due next year, and stares at complete rejection in West Bengal, where it had emerged as the second-largest party after the Trinamool Congress (TMC), and Rajasthan. Barring its performance in Assam, where Himanta Biswa Sarma’s leadership steered the BJP and its ally United People’s Party (Liberal) (UPPL) to comprehensive victories in all the five assembly segments, gaining four of these from opposition parties, the BJP put up a lacklustre show if compared to its past performances.
The only seat where it was able to displace the ruling party was Huzurabad in Telangana. The BJP, which had won the closely-contested Dubakka by-poll last year, will now push to project itself as the primary challenger to the incumbent K. Chandrasekhar Rao-led Telangana Rashtra Samithi.
Why are Congress’s wins significant?
On the other hand, the Congress will gain some confidence from the by-polls. Not only did the party emerge stronger in BJP-ruled Himachal Pradesh, but also fought tightly-contested elections in Madhya Pradesh, where although it managed to win only one of three seats, its 45.5% vote share was only 2% lower than the BJP’s.
It also won the prestigious Deglur assembly seat in Maharashtra by a margin of around 42,000 votes. Deglur had become keenly watched because top BJP leaders like former chief minister Devendra Fadnavis had extensively campaigned in a bid to topple the Congress. The grand-old party would also be happy that it has wrested the Hangal constituency in Karnataka from the BJP. The seat falls in chief minister Basavaraj Bommai’s home district Haveri.
Victories in Rajasthan will also be sweet for the Congress because not only did it retain the Vallabhnagar seat but also wrested the Dhariawad constituency from the BJP. In Vallabhnagar, the BJP finished fourth while in Dhariawad, it was pushed to the third position.
The grand old party’s biggest win is undoubtedly in poll-bound Himachal Pradesh, where it swept the by-polls. Pratibha Singh, the widow of former chief minister Virbhadra Singh, defeated the BJP in the Mandi Lok Sabha seat by a little more than 7,000 votes in what is a telling retort to the leadership of BJP chief minister Jairam Thakur, whose assembly segment also falls under Mandi. The saffron party had won the Lok Sabha seat in 2019 by a margin of more than four lakh votes. The party also retained the Arki and Fatehpur seats while wresting the Jubbal Kotkhai constituency from the BJP.
However, the grand old party will likely face a crisis in the Northeast. Not only did the NDA emerge victorious in all the seats that went to the polls in the region, but the Congress appears to be losing a substantial share of its support to newer regional forces like the Raijor Dal.
Preference for strong regional forces
The by-polls also indicate that a substantial section of voters tend to prefer regional forces that are in strong positions. The TMC’s enormous wins in all the four assembly seats of West Bengal signal such a trend. Not only did the TMC secure more than 75% votes in all the constituencies, but the other parties struggled to even save their deposit.
The BJP, which had emerged as the second-largest party in the state in assembly elections that were held only six months, could save its deposit only in Santipur. In Dinhata, which the junior Union home minister Nisith Pramanik had won by a narrow margin in the assembly elections before leaving it to retain his Lok Sabha seat, the TMC registered a win by a margin of 1.64 lakh votes – the highest ever in the state since Independence. At the same time, the Left front appeared to reclaim some of its traditional voters who had shifted to the BJP.
Similarly, the Y.S. Jagan Mohan Reddy-led YSR Congress registered an emphatic win in Andhra Pradesh, defeating the BJP by more than 90,000 votes. The Shiv Sena, too, registered a win in Dadra and Nagar Haveli, its first outside Maharashtra. The Lok Sabha seat in the Union Territory had fallen vacant after independent MP Mohan Delkar died by suicide this year. Kelkar made serious allegations of harassment against BJP leader and Lakshadweep administrator Praful Khoda Patel, who was also governing Dadra and Nagar Haveli. The Shiv Sena fielded Delkar’s wife Kalaben Delkar, who defeated the BJP candidate by a big margin.
Similarly, Indian National Lok Dal leader Abhay Chautala won the Ellenabad seat in Haryana by defeating the BJP in a closely-fought election. Chautala had resigned from the seat in support of the farmers’ protests earlier this year.
Even in Meghalaya, voters preferred Conrad Sangma’s National People’s Party and United Democratic Party over the Congress. In Bihar, although the Rashtriya Janata Dal could not win either of the two assembly segments in Bihar – Tarapur and Kusheshwar Ashtan – it held onto its ground and even managed to decrease the margin of victory considerably in Tarapur. The ruling Janata Dal (United) won both seats.
The big picture
With one win in Mandi, the Congress’s tally in the Lok Sabha has increased to 53. The Shiv Sena’s win in Dadra and Nagar Haveli takes its tally to 19 in the lower house of parliament. The BJP’s tally remains the same in the Lok Sabha as it could only retain the Khandwa constituency in Madhya Pradesh. As far as assembly seats are concerned, the saffron party gained three assembly seats in the by-polls, largely because of its victories in Assam. The Congress’s number came down by three, despite its scattered but significant wins.
However, the biggest takeaway from the by-polls will be the BJP’s uninspiring show. The saffron party could not register wins in states where it is not in power, except in Telangana. The thrashing that it received in West Bengal and Himachal Pradesh are some of the biggest-ever defeats that the saffron party has faced. On the other hand, the Congress did comparatively well in BJP-ruled states, while performing exceedingly well in Rajasthan and Maharashtra, where it is in power.
Notwithstanding the regional dynamics, the BJP’s reticence in responding to matters that affect the aam aadmi like fuel price rise, unemployment, crashing businesses and mishandling of the COVID-19 pandemic, even while it remains extremely vocal in counting its achievements in well-mounted advertisement campaigns, may cost the party dearly in the long-run. While one should not read too much into the by-poll results, they do contain the warning signals of the beginning of a probable downfall.
If you know someone – friend or family member – at risk of suicide, please reach out to them. The Suicide Prevention India Foundation maintains a list of telephone numbers (www.spif.in/seek-help/) they can call to speak in confidence. You could also refer them to the nearest hospital.