Bypoll Results Show BJP Still in Driving Seat as Congress Suffers Another Setback

One aspect of the bypolls that didn’t go unnoticed was how all parties in the fray except the Telangana Rashtra Samithi pandered to the lure of dynasticism in Indian politics.

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Although the bypolls in the seven seats across six states didn’t have the potential to upset the ruling parties or their state governments, they were seen as a show of strength for opposition parties which will take on the BJP in the 2024 Lok Sabha elections.

However, barring a couple of upsets, the results turned out to be predictable, maintaining the status quo in the assemblies.

In Gopalganj (Bihar), Gola Gokrannath (UP) and Dhamnagar (Odisha), the BJP is retaining its seats, while also wresting Adampur (Haryana) from the Congress.

The RJD also retained the Mokama constituency in Bihar, where Anant Singh, former MLA, had to resign because of a corruption case against him. The Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) looks set to defeat the BJP in the Munugode seat, where a bypoll was necessitated after the sitting Congress MLA Komatireddy Rajagopal Reddy resigned to join the BJP. He contested the election as the saffron party’s candidate and gave a tough fight but was trailing behind the TRS by more than 3% at the time of going to press.

The seats which the BJP and TRS have gained in Haryana and Telangana respectively are both at the cost of the Congress. Manohar Lal Khattar, Haryana’s chief minister, will derive confidence from the win in his state, while K. Chandrashekar Rao (KCR), who has been pitching himself against the BJP nationally, will also likely up his ante after his party’s victory in a high-pitched, bipolar contest in the state.

At the same time, the loss in Telangana will hurt the saffron party, which has set its eyes on advancing its footprint in the southern state. The defeat comes after the BJP won two by-polls in the state, both at the cost of the TRS. Currently, the BJP can claim only Karnataka as a beachhead in the south.

Telangana chief minister K. Chandrashekar Rao. Photo: Facebook/TelanganaCMO

Dynasties rule the roost

One aspect of the bypolls that didn’t go unnoticed was how all parties in the fray except the TRS pandered to the prevailing lure of dynasticism in Indian politics. Despite all its rhetoric against dynasty politics, the BJP fielded family members of sitting MLAs whose deaths or defections resulted in the bypolls.

In Adampur, the BJP fielded Bhavya Bishnoi, son of Kuldeep Bishnoi, whose switch from Congress to the BJP forced the bypolls. In UP’s Gola Gokrannath, it placed its bets on Aman Giri, son of BJP leader Arvind Giri who won the seat in 2017 for the fifth time and died earlier this year. Similarly, in Odisha’s Dhamnagar, the saffron party placed its faith in Suryabanshi Suraj after the demise of his father and sitting MLA Bishnu Charam Sethi. Again, in Bihar’s Gopalganj, the BJP fielded Kusum Devi, widow of MLA Subhash Singh.

Other parties too followed the same playbook. The Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) fielded Anant Singh’s wife Neelam Devi in Mokama. Shiv Sena (Uddhav Balasaheb Thackeray) made Rutuja Latke its candidate for Andheri East after the death of its MLA Ramesh Latke.

Reposing faith in dynasty politics is not a new phenomenon, especially in bypolls as most political parties bank on voters’ sympathy when MLAs die mid-tenure. But the BJP’s top leadership has dramatically campaigned over the ppast decade against such practices while hitting out at other parties for their ‘parivarvaad‘. These bypolls only go on to suggest that the saffron party is quite willing to compromise on its stance if this increases its chances of electoral victory.

Also Read | Assembly Bypolls: BJP Gains One Seat, Status Quo in Five, TRS Gaining Munugode

What do the results mean?

Yet, the BJP gaining a constituency will put it in the driving seat again.

The Congress will only to reflect on what more it can do to increase its electoral chances, in addition to efforts like the Bharat Jodo Yatra or having a non-Gandhi party president.

The results will also be a reality check for the Nitish Kumar-Lalu Prasad Yadav duo as their parties JD(U) and RJD, and especially Bihar’s deputy CM Tejashwi Yadav, had put all their energy into wresting the Gopalganj seat from the BJP. In the run-up to the poll, leaders from both parties had expected that consolidation of all OBC segments in the state, as had happened in the 2015 Bihar assembly polls, would corner the BJP. But the saffron party secured the seat after stiff competition from the ruling alliance.

The result may not portend any significant loss for the ruling alliance in the state but shows that a BJP short of Nitish Kumar’s strength is still a force to reckon with in the state. This is evident from the fact that the BJP gave a tough fight to the Mahagathbandhan candidate even in Mokama, where it lost but the victory margin of the RJD candidate was cut by almost 50% than the last time.

The fact that the margin of defeat for the RJD – a little over one per cent – is less than the 7% that Asaduddin Owaisi’s AIMIM polled this time suggests a division in the vote of Muslims may also have been a factor. The Bahujan Samaj Party also polled a significant number of votes, perhaps fragmenting the vote further.

Similarly, the Biju Janata Dal (BJD) may also take the Dhamnagar defeat as a sign of its decreasing popularity against a surging BJP in Odisha. In the run-up to the vote, CM Naveen Patnaik had declared an end to all contractual jobs and gave a roadmap to make all employees in government jobs permanent. The announcement was seen as a signal to the state’s voters ahead of the 2024 general elections and a purported swing factor in the bypoll. but the BJP still retained the seat, indicating the party continues to be seen by the state’s voters as the best alternative to the BJD.