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05 June, 2018

What by-poll figures foretell

BRP Bhaskar
Gulf Today
The Lok Sabha elections due in less than a year will not be a cakewalk for Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Bharatiya Janata Party, as their loyal followers imagined in the wake of the vast expansion of the party’s footprint across the country in the last four years.

When Modi led the BJP to power in 2014, winning 282 seats in the 543-member Lok Sabha, it ruled only in seven states. The Congress was in power in 13 states. The BJP now rules over 21 states either on its own or in alliance with other parties. The Congress is in power in just four.

The BJP did not secure power in all the states on the strength of its electoral performance. It got control over several states through post-poll alliances. In Goa and Manipur, it seized power by outmanoeuvering the Congress, which had won more seats, with the help of Governors the Modi government had appointed. 

With 21 seats the Congress emerged as the largest party in the 60-member Meghalaya Assembly in the elections early this year. The BJP which contested 47 seats won only two. Yet it is part of the ruling dispensation as a partner of the coalition headed by the regional National People’s Party, the second largest party with 19 seats. 

The BJP did run into some stumbling blocks. It had won all seven Lok Sabha seats from Delhi State in 2014. However, in the following year the fledgling Aam Aami Party (AAP) inflicted a humiliating defeat on it and grabbed 67 of the state’s 70 Assembly seats, leaving it with just three. 

Last year, in Punjab the Congress ousted the Akali Dal-BJP coalition which had been in power for 10 years. The AAP became the main opposition with 20 seats in the 117-member Assembly. The Akali Dal ended up with only 15 seats and the BJP with three. 

This year the BJP registered a big win in Tripura, where it seized power, putting an end to 25 years of unbroken rule by the Communist Party of India (Marxist).

If the BJP’s fortune was a mixed one, with more good than bad thus far, it took a turn for the worse thereafter. Close on the heels of the debacle in Karnataka, where long-time rivals Congress and Janata Dal (Secular) joined hands and blocked its way to power, it suffered a string of by-election defeats.

Four Lok Sabha seats and 10 Assembly seats figured in the by-poll calendar. With the ruling coalition and the opposition winning two Lok Sabha sears each they may be said to have shared the honours but the wresting of the Kairana seat in UP from the BJP by a candidate backed by several opposition parties holds much significance. 

Kairana is close to Muzzafarnagar, which was a scene of violence, believed to have been engineered by Hindutva elements to precipitate polarisation on religious lines, ahead of the 2014 elections. The by-election was necessitated by the death of Hukum Singh of the BJP and the party fielded his daughter, Mriganka Singh, in the hope that a sympathy wave will carry her to victory. 

The Rashtriya Lok Dal, a regional party, put up Tabassun Hasan, wife of Munawar Hasan, who had served as a member of the UP Assembly and the two houses of Parliament before his death in a road accident in 2004. The Samajwadi Party, the Bhaujan Samaj Party and the Congress extended support to her. 

Kairana is the third Lok Sabha seat from UP which the BJP has lost in three months, the other two being Gorakhpur and Phulpur, which were vacated by Yogi Adityanath and Dinesh Sharma to become Chief Minister and Deputy Chief Minister respectively.

The three by-election results have demonstrated convincingly that a united opposition can hold the BJP at bay even in UP, where it had swept the polls in the last Lok Sabha and Assembly elections.

Assembly elections are due later this year in Rajasthan, Chattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh. The BJP and the Congress are the main contenders for power in all three. The Congress has stated that it is in talks for a tie-up with BSP, which draws support mainly from the Dalits.

The opposition’s unity efforts are in the preliminary stage and will take time to materialise. As the party in power, the BJP can, if it so wishes, advance the date of the poll. There is a possibility of the party exercising the option in order to deny the opposition parties time to come together. --Gulf Today, Sharjah, June 5, 2018

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