The by-election results in Uttar Pradesh (and to some extent in Bihar) triggered several columnists, political pundits and politicians (well, some of them) to dub the mandate as a dress rehearsal of sorts for the upcoming Lok Sabha election in 2019. The term 'dress rehearsal' was first used in this context by Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath during camapaigning for these by-elections.
Two constituencies in Uttar Pradesh — Gorakhpur and Phulpur. The BJP lost both high-profile seats which had been won by three lakh-plus margins in 2014 by Adityanath and his deputy, Keshav Prasad Maurya. The results of the by-elections in Uttar Pradesh are significant as they come almost a year after the BJP's unprecedented victory in the state Assembly elections.
The BJP had won the two seats in 2014 by big margins of over three lakh votes. The failure to retain the two seats has again showed the BJP's vulnerability in a contest against a combined and determined opposition. Similarly in Bihar, the BJP had been defeated by the Grand Alliance of Janata Dal-United, RJD and Congress in 2015 Assembly elections despite aggressive campaigning by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Unlike Phulpur, a constituency which has seen loyalties shift — from the Congress to the Samajwadi Party followed by the BSP and then the BJP which won this constituency during the 2014 General Election, Gorakhpur is a saffron bastion which has remained faithful to the Gorakhnath temple. Before Adityanath, the seat was held by his mentor and the powerful head priest Mahant Avaidyanath. The party had been winning the Gorakhpur seat since 1989 and Adityanath had held it for five straight terms since 1998. A loss at the hands of a resurgent Bahujan Samaj Party-Samajwadi Party combine in the key seat has left the party red-faced.
Common sense dictates that if a ruling government is losing in its state, things are clearly not fine and symbolism is an intrinsic part of politics. Even as several op-eds claiming that the recently-concluded bypolls are a precursor to the Big One in 2019, let's examine by-elections in India and the patterns in which the regular electorate votes.
What are by-elections?
It is safe to say that in India, with the amount of elections we see in a year, there are several which go unnoticed. Unlike the General Election or even the state Assembly elections, by-elections are not glamourous, however, their purpose is to fill a political office that has been vacated. In a way, by-elections are a necessary enabler for restoring stability. Held between regularly scheduled elections, by-elections, or bypolls, are an indicator of the state government's competence. In most of the cases, the ruling government wins the bypolls unless the state isn't happy with the government or candidate, in which case, the voters try to bring in an alternative.
Are by-elections precursor to the Big One?
Since it stormed to power in 2014, a mandate that newspapers still discuss, the BJP has had a good fortune at the state Assembly election, but when it comes to re-election of a representative from a seat that fell vacant, voters have shown a tendency of changing their mind and not opting for the saffron party.
BJP's tally in Lok Sabha down to 274 from 282 in 2014
After winning an absolute majority in 2014 General Election with 282 seats, the BJP has lost seven seats in by-elections held in the last four years. With the loss of the prestigious Gorakhpur and Phulpur seats in the by-elections in Uttar Pradesh, the party's tally in the Lok Sabha has come down to 274, only two more than the halfway mark of 272 in the 543-member House. In the by-elections since Narendra Modi stormed to power, BJP lost to Congress in four seats; to Samajwadi Party on two seats and to Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) on one seat. With the win on two Lok Sabha seats in Uttar Pradesh, SP's tally has gone up to seven from five in 2014. Meanwhile, despite the win in Bihar's Araria, the RJD tally remained at four.
Bypoll shocker for BJP
The first bypoll shock for BJP came in from Madhya Pradesh's Ratlam constituency in November 2015. The BJP had won 27 of the 29 seats in the state in 2014. The bypoll on the parliamentary seat was necessitated after the death of sitting BJP MP Dileep Singh Bhuria. The Congress's Kantilal Bhuria won the seat against Dileep Singh Bhuria's daughter Nirmala.
The Congress, which had lost in all the 25 seats in Rajasthan in 2014 polls, managed to make a comeback in the state early this year as it won the Lok Sabha bypolls in Alwar and Ajmer. The by-elections were necessitated by the death of BJP MPs Sanwarlal Jat (Ajmer) and Mahant Chand Nath Yogi (Alwar).
The BJP also lost in the by-election to Bihar's Araria Lok Sabha seat to its rival RJD. The polls were necessitated after the death of RJD MP Mohammad Taslimuddin last year. In Araria, there was a direct contest between Taslimuddin's son Sarfraz Alam and BJP's Pradip Singh.
However, it was not all loss for the BJP in the by-elections. It won the bypolls in Assam, Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh. In Assam's Lakhimpur, a poll was necessitated as the sitting MP Sarbananda Sonowal took over as the CM of the state after the party's win. The party retained the seat in the bypoll. The BJP also won in Madhya Pradesh's Shahdol. The election was necessitated as veteran party leader Dalpat Singh Paraste passed away. The bypoll was held just days after demonetisation, when the country was in turmoil, seeking to adjust to the lack of cash in the system.
The BJP also won Vadodara, which has been its traditional stronghold seat. As Prime Minster Narendra Modi retained his Varanasi seat and resigned from Vadodara, BJP won the seat again easily. BJP stalwart Gopinath Munde died in a road accident in June 2014 which led to the bypoll in Maharashtra's Beed. His daughter Pritam Munde easily retained the seat for the BJP. The bypoll in Uttar Pradesh's Kairana is yet to be announced after the death of BJP MP Hukum Singh.
Where incumbent governments won
Punjab: It was a setback for the BJP in Punjab's Gurdaspur in 2017. The bypoll was necessitated after the death of sitting BJP MP and actor-turned-politician Vinod Khanna. Congress's Sunil Singh Jakhar, son of former Lok Sabha Speaker Balram Jakhar defeated BJP's Swaran Solaria in the constituency by over 1.93 lakh votes.
West Bengal: Bypolls in two seats — Uluberia Lok Sabha seat and Noapara Assembly seat — were won by Trinamool Congress this February. The ruling TMC swept Uluberia Lok Sabha and Noapara Assembly bypolls, with the BJP bagging the second spot in both seats and the CPM being pushed to the third position. Congress came fourth in both seats. In Uluberia, Trinamool retained its seat by receiving 4.74 lakh votes — doubling its 2014 Lok Sabha polls winning margin. In Noapara, it defeated Congress by 63,018 votes. Even in terms of vote share, the ruling party emerged supreme with 61 percent in Uluberia and 55 percent in Noapara.
The BJP's vote has doubled as the party secured slightly over 1.37 lakh votes in Uluberia in the 2014 Lok Sabha election.
Mainpuri: After a historical mandate in 2014, the first test of BJP's popularity came in August the same year when Mainpuri bypolls were held. Despite securing a 71-seat-win during the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, the BJP lost to Mulayam Singh Yadav's grand newphew Tej Pratap Singh. Mulayam won the 2014 General Election from the constituency (Mainpuri) for the third consecutive time. But at the same time, Mulayam also won the elections from Azamgarh constituency. On 26 May, he resigned from Mainpuri and retained the Azamgarh seat.
With inputs from agencies
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Updated Date: Mar 15, 2018 15:46:16 IST