The The poll pundits have sounded the alarm bell for the ruling party wherein disenchantment is building up within the electorate of a few poll-bound states. A similar disillusionment against the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) showed in the results of three Lok Sabha constituencies and 29 assembly seats across 13 states.
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 routed in Rajasthan. Victories in Rajasthan will 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. 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 lackluster 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.
However, 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, it's 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 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.
The by-polls also indicate that a substantial section of voters tends 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.
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. 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.
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 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 common man 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.
However, BJP can argue that they have not unleashed the Modi card in the by-poll hence the initiative remains with them going ahead in the next round of elections.
(The writer is Prashant Tewari, Editor-In chief of the Opinion Express)