When bypolls send a strong message

Subhashis Mittra

The outcome of Lok Sabha bypolls in Uttar Pradesh sends a message - loud and clear - that Muslim-Yadav voters have shifted their choice from the SP to the BJP. And, secondly, the BJP is posing a seemingly insurmountable challenge to a fragmented Opposition.


The results of the two bye-elections in Rampur and Azamgarh are indeed stunning. Not simply because the BJP won, but because it killed the lion in its den - by humbling the Samajwadi Party in its traditional bastion, once upon a time.


The BJP’s victories in Rampur, with over 50% Muslim population, and Azamgarh, with over 40% Muslim-Yadav population, thus signify tectonic shifts in the SP’s core political matrix.


Azamgarh used to be Mulayam Singh Yadav’s favourite hunting ground. He won the Lok Sabha election from that constituency in 2014 and his son Akhilesh Yadav was elected from thete in 2019. 


It's a seat the family didn’t lose during the 2014 and 2019 general election even as it was routed across the state. 


Even three months ago, when Yogi Adityanath became the first UP CM to return to office for the second consecutive time since Independence, the SP had won all 10 assembly segments in Azamgarh. But, the 'red cap' (an identity mark of the party) has now fallen to BJP.


In Rampur, too, the perceived alienation of senior leader Azam Khan, who held the seat, appeared to have contributed to the party’s loss in a constituency it won by more than a lakh votes in 2019. 


Khan, who was in jail on corruption charges till he recently secured bail, has scotched speculation of his growing differences with Yadav but the results made it clear that the SP’s candidate failed to gain popular acceptance.


By wresting the two SP strongholds in UP, the BJP has strengthened its already vice-like grip ahead of the urban local body elections due later this year.


The SP may blame the Bahujan Samaj Party, which polled close to a third of the votes cast, but the lacklustre SP campaign indicated that the party had thought victory was assured in its pocket borough – a costly mistake in an era where Opposition parties have to be alert to the aggression of the BJP in every electoral outing.


The BJP’s victories in Rampur and Azamgarh prove the continuing potency of the party in the heartland. Azamgarh was vacated by SP chief Akhilesh Yadav, who chose to retain the Assembly seat that he won while the party lost a second consecutive time. 


Likewise, Rampur was vacated by senior party leader Azam Khan, who will retain his Assembly seat. That such strongholds have slipped out of its hands is further proof that the SP’s hopes of a return in UP may be unrealistic, and its style, character and personnel are unacceptable to large sections of the voters. While the UP results make the BJP’s position unassailable, they also open new possibilities in the Opposition space as the SP’s slide continues.


The Aam Aadmi Party's defeat in Sangrur just months after its spectacular win in the Punjab election comes as a wake up call for the party. 


The AAP's shock defeat on the Sangrur Lok Sabha seat in Punjab threw a spanner in the party's celebrations over its victory in the Rajinder Nagar assembly bye-election in Delhi after the results were declared. 


SAD (Amritsar) president and Khalistan proponent Simranjit Singh Mann defeated AAP candidate Gurmail Singh in the Sangrur by a margin of 5,822 votes, dealing a blow to Arvind Kejriwal's party which stormed to power in Punjab barely three months ago. 


The AAP's drubbing in Sangrur surprised many of its senior leaders in Delhi as the seat is considered to be the party's stronghold. 


Punjab Chief Minister Bhagwant Mann had won it twice, and in the state polls earlier this year, the party bagged all the nine assembly seats that fall under the Lok Sabha constituency. 


The surprise win of Simranjit Singh Mann in the pocket borough of Bhagwant Singh Mann, has therefore touched off questions — and anxieties. 


Simranjit Singh Mann’s victory comes at a time when the Shiromani Akali Dal, the oldest party of the state, seems to be at its weakest. It is facing an existential crisis after incidents of Guru Granth Sahib’s desecration in 2015 and its handling of the aftermath dealt a body blow to its credibility. 


Mann could be said to have began his comeback by calling a gathering of community leaders on the issue of sacrilege. Of late, he has been championing the cause of minorities against what he calls the ultra-right — in a probable bid to move into the space once occupied by the Akali Dal.


In Delhi, the party's state unit celebrated its victory in Rajinder Nagar assembly bypoll. Taking to Twitter, Delhi Chief Minister and AAP national convenor Kejriwal hailed the victory in Rajinder Nagar, calling it a defeat of the BJP's "dirty politics", and an appreciation of work done by his government in Delhi.


To sum up, it will not be an exaggeration to say that the results of the bypolls to three parliamentary constituencies across two states and seven assembly constituencies across four states spelt bad news for Opposition parties while cementing the stature of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) as the central pole of Indian politics. 


The results of the seven assembly bypolls were largely in keeping with expectations that the ruling party in a particular state will emerge as the winner. 


In Andhra Pradesh, Jharkhand and Delhi, the ruling party won the assembly seat on offer and in Tripura, the incumbent BJP won three of the four seats that went to the polls, with the other going to a popular Congress candidate. 


A victory each in Tripura and Jharkhand made the day for the Congress. 


The CPI(M) continued to sink in Tripura, its former stronghold, while once again, despite putting in considerable effort and money, the Trinamool Congress failed to make any breakthrough in the northeastern state. 


The TMC, which was looking to make inroads in the northeastern state, performed dismally with its candidates losing deposits in all the seats.


But, any extrapolation of the results of a particular bye-election to statewide or even national politics must be done with caution. This is because bypolls are usually local in nature and with little impact on the overall stability of the state or central government.


Still, the bypoll outcomes underscore the continuing dominance of the BJP, and the continuing inability of the Opposition to rise to the challenge.



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