Out of the seven seats up for grabs in the by-polls, the BJP managed to secure only three while four went to INDIA Alliance, signalling potential challenges ahead for the ruling party. The opposition thinks that if it remains united it can take on the BJP. A report by Mudit Mathur
The performance of the newly formed opposition bloc – I.N.D.I.A. in the recently held by-elections in six states has compelled the top BJP leadership to sit up and take notice. Out of the seven seats up for grabs in these by-polls, the BJP managed to secure only three, signalling potential challenges ahead for the ruling party.
The by-elections, which were held in Uttar Pradesh, Kerala, West Bengal, Jharkhand, Uttarakhand and Tripura, were the first electoral test of the I.N.D.I.A, a grouping of 28 parties.
The BJP’s resounding loss in the Ghosi assembly constituency of Mau district of eastern Uttar Pradesh, a BJP stronghold, is significant. It perhaps reflects the changing mood of the electorate as the high profile campaign led by the party’s top political leadership came undone.
The high-intensity campaign by the BJP, however, failed to shift the focus of the people away from the pressing issues such as frequent price rises, increasing unemployment, and dwindling economic prosperity, all of which were highlighted by the Samajwadi Party during the election campaign. Undoubtedly, the result is a booster dose for the Congress-led opposition alliance I.N.D.I.A., which supported the Samajwadi Party candidate against Dara Singh Chauhan, SP turncoat fielded by the BJP.
Political observers are surprised over the result of Ghosi seat as both the Prime Minister Narendra Modi and UP Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath represent eastern Uttar Pradesh on the national canvas and have been instrumental in large scale infrastructural development and social upliftment. The setback in Ghosi is understandably causing worries to the BJP high command.
The BJP candidate, Dara Singh Chauhan, an influential OBC leader, had won in the 2022 Assembly elections on a SP ticket and had recently defected to BJP. His entry into the BJP was not taken kindly by local BJP workers. The bickering among the party workers over the issue also contributed to the BJP’s humiliating defeat.
In caste-ridden politics of Uttar Pradesh, BJP engineered polarisation by aligning with non-Yadav most backward castes and non-Jatav Dalits by promoting their leadership. This arrangement paved the way for landslide parliamentary election win for the BJP in 2019 and saw the return to power of Yogi Adityanath after a resounding BJP win in 2022 assembly elections. Samajwadi Party and Bahujan Samaj Party failed to make any dent in voting patterns in the stronghold of BJP.
The Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) often refrains from participating in by-elections, as it believes that the outcomes overwhelmingly favour the ruling party. But result of Ghosi by-election are seen as a deep setback to Mayawati whose political aloofness has puzzled political circles as she announced that it would remain equidistant from the BJP-led NDA as well as the Congress-led I.N.D.I.A alliance.
The winning Samajwadi Party candidate, Sudhakar Singh, 64, a Rajput leader, has shot to national fame, by defeating the BJP’s high-profile OBC candidate Dara Singh Chauhan by a huge margin of 42,759 votes. Singh has over three-decade-long political association with the party as a worker and has also remained legislator for two terms. His victory came at a time when the party president, Akhilesh Yadav is raising a pitch for a caste census at national level besides besides demanding empowerment of the “Pichchde, Dalit and Alpsankhyak (PDA—backwards, Dalits and minorities)” that forms the majority of the electorate.
Soon after the result, the SP chief Akhilesh Yadav said: “It is a victory for positive politics and a defeat for negative communal politics. It is Bharat starting towards INDIA’s victory.” Samajwadi chief Akhilesh Yadav, who normally refrains from campaigning in by-elections, addressed a rally for Sudhakar in the Ghosi. The political strategist and senior party leader Shivpal Singh Yadav also camped in the constituency during the entire campaign trail.
However, a spectacular win for the opposition came from Puthuppally in Kerala where the Congress candidate Chandy Oommen won by a margin that surpassed his late father and veteran Congress leader Oommen Chandy’s highest ever victory margin in 53 years. It was considered as a big blow to CM Pinarayi Vijayan, who had turned the by-election into a referendum on his government and led the campaign from the front. The aggressive CPI(M) campaign, and the sharp attacks on the Chandy family, appear to have not gone down well with the voters, who continue to hold affection for the late Congress leader.
Addressing the media after his win, Chandy Oommen described the by-election result as his father’s “13th victory” (Chandy Senior had won 12 Assembly elections from Puthuppally). “My father had been a member of every family in Puthuppally. He was a father, a brother, a son for the people. I will be here for all of you as my father had been. This is the victory of the people who loved my father. The care and development which my father bestowed upon you will continue.”
Congress leader Ramesh Chennithala said, “The spectacular victory in the Puthuppally by-election is a clear message to the Modi and Pinarayi Vijayan governments. Both BJP and CPM have been thrown out by the people of Puthuppally. Such a landslide margin has not been achieved in any of the by-elections held in Kerala. The message is very clear.”
In Bengal also, it was the BJP which was at the receiving end. The party had been counting on retaining Dhupguri to check its slide in the state. However, the ruling Trinamool Congress, dogged by problems of its own, spared no effort and wrested the seat from BJP with a victory margin of 4,309 votes.
TMC nominee Nirmal Chandra Roy, a professor of history, defeated the BJP’s Tapasi Roy, whose husband was in the CRPF and died in a terrorist attack in Jammu and Kashmir in 2021.Apart from being a prestige win for the party in its battle against the BJP, it is further indication of the TMC making its way back into North Bengal. Commenting on the Dhupguri win, West Bengal CM Mamata Banerjee said: “The BJP has lost four by-elections out of the seven held on September 5. This is a big win for INDIA.”
In Jharkhand, INDIA fielded a joint candidate Bebi Devi of Jharkhand Mukti Morcha fromDumri who registered a comprehensive win over the NDA nominee. Dumri seat was held for a long time by her late husband Jagarnath Mahato, a popular tribal leader who had participated in the agitation for the separate Jharkhand state. His death necessitated the bye election. She won the seat by a margin of over 17,000 votes. While the counting indicated a close fight, the JMM’s Bebi Devi finally pulled ahead, getting over 1 lakh votes against 83,164 votes for NDA candidate Yashoda Devi of the All-Jharkhand Students’ Union (AJSU).
Meanwhile, BJP bagged one seat in Uttarakhand and two seats in Tripura. Bageshwar seat of Uttarakhand was retained by BJP where Congress lost by a narrow margin of 2,405 votes. BJP fielded Parvati Dass, wife of Chandan Ram Dass, minister with portfolios of Social Welfare, Minority Welfare, Road Transport, and Micro, Small, and Medium Enterprises, whose sudden death had necessitated the by-election. BJP candidate got sympathy vote enabling her to win by a narrow margin.
In Tripura, the ruling BJP got a big boost where the party won both Boxanagar and Dhanpur Assembly seats in the bye elections. BJP snatched one of the constituencies which was held by CPI(M) MLA Samsul Haque. Though son of Haque, Mohd Mizan Hossain was fielded as a joint candidate of opposition alliance I.N.D.I.A from Boxanagar but BJP nominee Tafajjal Hossain won with a margin of 30,237 votes. The CPI (M) candidate got only 3,909 votes.
The Dhanpur bye election had been necessitated due to the resignation of the BJP’s Pratima Bhoumik from the seat, after she chose to continue as an MP and Union Minister of State. The CPI(M) again fielded Kaushik Chandra, who had lost to Bhoumik in the Assembly elections in February this year. This time, he lost to the BJP’s Bindu Debnath with a margin of 18,871 votes. Dhanpur was once the home turf of former Chief Minister and CPI(M) stalwart Manik Sarkar.
The by-elections in the states are fought on regional issues and cannot be a yardstick for upcoming 2024 general elections. But the results have kindled a hope among the INDIA block that if it remained united and fielded consensus candidates it could take on the BJP .