Kairana bypolls: United Opposition is a cause of concern for BJP, but may not be enough for victory in 2019
Kairana is kind of a lab test case for combined Opposition in a given state or a given constituency versus BJP on the other side.
In its fifth and final year, the 16th Lok Sabha will get its first Muslim MP from the most populous and politically significant state of Uttar Pradesh. Tabassum Hasan will have that honour. Though she fought on Rashtriya Lok Dal ticket, she will also have the distinction of being a representative of all anti-Modi, anti-BJP forces – Samajwadi Party, Bahujan Samaj Party, Congress, Rashtriya Lok Dal, Aam Admi Party, Lok Dal and others.
Tabassum Hasan has all the reasons to celebrate her victory over BJP's Mriganka Singh, daughter of late Hukum Singh, whose death had created vacancy of Kairana parliamentary seat. Though results of bypolls in four parliamentary and ten Assembly seats were announced on Thursday, the result of Kairana remained the centre of attention.
Kairana is kind of a lab test case for combined Opposition in a given state or a given constituency versus BJP on the other side. This bypoll assumes additional significance for three reasons.
First off, Kairana comes after Gorakhpur and Phulpur bypolls. The results in all three constituencies have been the same. Victory of Opposition and defeat of BJP, even as the latter had won 73 out of 80 parliamentary seats in 2014 and 325 out of 403 seats in 2017 Assembly elections.
Secondly, the rising might of a rejuvenated BJP under Narendra Modi and Amit Shah had brought sworn enemies like SP and BSP together. Moreover, each party in the Opposition like BSP, SP or Congress was willing to concede space for the other to tide over the existential crisis they have been facing since 2014.
Consider the two situations which recently unfolded: In Karnataka, Congress swallowed its pride and agreed to play second fiddle to JD(S) by unilaterally and “unconditionally” declaring HD Kumaraswamy as chief minister, despite having more than double the number of seats JD(S) had.
Turn to Kairana in Uttar Pradesh – Tabassum Hasan was with Samajwadi Party (SP) until the bypoll was announced. Her son is an SP MLA. She had earlier been an MP from BSP. But the social combinations on the ground suggested that she could win elections only if she had the support of around 3o percent Muslim electorate and substantive sections of Jat electorate, along with some incremental support on part of Dalit voters. Jats would possibly not have voted for her if she had fought election on SP ticket or Muslims would not have supported her if RLD had fielded a Jat candidate. To counter BJP, Akhilesh Yadav readily let his party leader fight on RLD symbol. Even Lok Dal candidate Kanwar Hasan, who had polled over one lakh votes in the last parliamentary election, withdrew his candidature in favour of Tabassum Hasan.
Smart political strategy, one must say.
Thirdly, the Mahagathbandhan or grand coalition template, which tasted success against BJP in the Bihar election and three parliamentary bypolls in UP, will serve as a model for the Opposition in several states in 2019.
But it would be grossly erroneous to jump to any conclusion about the outcome of the next general election on the basis of some by-polls results. Since UP is in focus, it would be pertinent to point out that when SP was in power, it used to win most by-elections but lost badly in both parliamentary and Assembly elections. Take for instance the bypoll results of September 2014, less than four months after Narendra Modi-led BJP had swept parliamentary polls in UP. The party lost 7 out of 10 seats it held and almost all these vacancies were created because BJP MLAs had become MPs and had thus resigned from Assembly. But when UP Assembly elections took place, BJP won with an unheard of four-fifth majority.
There is also no evidence to suggest that result of one Assembly election impacts results of another Assembly election or parliamentary elections. In fact there are examples when voters have voted differently, one party for Assembly and another for parliamentary when polling for parliamentary and Assembly elections have been held together.
BJP lost Kairana. But despite a combined Opposition, that too in a constituency which was Muslim-dominated, BJP polled over 3.5 lakh votes and the victory margin for RJD candidate was not as big as its rivals had been claiming. This is indicative of the fact that things on the ground were still not as bad for the saffron party as many had been predicting. Bypolls are guided by local factors and that is one reason why poll percentage is generally low in these elections. Voters tend to overlook the larger picture or appeal of big leaders, in this case, Modi. More often than not, voters' preference shifts in Assembly or parliamentary election. The Modi factor does not come into play in a bypoll. It would surely have its impact in parliamentary polls, as it had in 2014 or in successive Assembly elections for the past four years.
Opposition unity in states like UP is certainly a cause of concern for the BJP. But the unfolding situation in Karnataka shows that despite the fact that Kumaraswamy was sworn-in as chief minister nine days ago, he has not been able to form his government as yet because inner contradictions over number of ministries and portfolios have come into play.
The likelihood of inner contradictions of current and prospective Opposition coalition or regional allies, Congress included, coming into play is immense. The Congress, with its ever diminishing strength, cannot claim to be in pole position vis-à-vis BJP. No regional ally, at least for now, is willing to accept Rahul Gandhi’s leadership. This was amply evident at the grand show of strength at Bengaluru Vidhan Soudha when the Kumaraswamy government was sworn-in. The likes of BSP, SP, TMC, etc would like to contest more and more number of seat to maximise their bargaining chip for post-poll permutations and combinations. They may still fight as allies but friendly contest in several constituencies or their rebels coming out in large numbers would be a possibility that would hurt the Opposition poll prospects.
Palghar parliamentary seat in Maharastra, where the BJP gave a royal snub to its estranged ally Shiv Sena, has given reasons to the saffron party to smile. The BJP won it comfortably.
The results of ten Assembly polls spread over various states have sounded caution to the BJP. With one year to go, there is a need for the party to review strategy and hasten delivery process.
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