Byelections usually act as straws in the wind before a state assembly election or Lok Sabha elections take place. On Tuesday, results for 3 Lok Sabha seats and 29 assembly seats across India came as a mixed bag for both BJP and the Congress. Nevertheless, the results could be pointers for political developments that are going to take place in the coming months.
Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress made a clean sweep of all four assembly seats in Bengal, while Assam BJP led by chief minister Himanta Biswa Sarma scored emphatic wins for his alliance on all the five assembly seats. Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan showed that he still continues to have a grip over Madhya Pradesh voters, winning the Khandwa Lok Sabha seat and two assembly seats. In Rajasthan, chief minister Ashok Gehlot led from the front and the Congress won both assembly seats. In Karnataka, BJP won one and lost the other assembly seat.
The most crucial results came from Bihar, where the ruling Janata Dal (United) led by chief minister Nitish Kumar won both the assembly seats in tough contests, despite campaigning by RJD supremo Lalu Prasad Yadav, who is presently out of jail. Shiv Sena opened its account for the first time outside Maharashtra winning the Dadra Nagar Haveli Lok Sabha seat.
For a political observer, it is not important which party won how many seats, but it is significant which party won which seat. Lalu Prasad Yadav had hoped that he could make life hell for Nitish Kumar, had he won both the assembly seats, but he came a cropper. Mamata Banerjee won seats by big margins in Bengal, which the BJP had won six months ago during the state assembly polls.
In MP, Shivraj Singh Chouhan won the tribal-dominated seat which his party had won only once in the last 70 years. The Congress did a clean sweep of Mandi Lok Sabha seat and three other assembly seats in Himachal Pradesh defeating BJP, but chief minister Jairam Thakur said, the party lost because of price rise. In Assam, BJP-led NDA won all five assembly seats which proved that Himanta Biswa Sarma’s selection as chief minister by BJP high command was not wrong. But in Karnataka, the newly appointed CM Basavaraj Bommai lost the Hangal assembly seat in his home district Haveri.
RJD supremo Lalu Prasad Yadav, out of jail and campaigning for two assembly seats, had claimed that he had come to perform ‘visarjan’ (immersion) of Nitish Kumar’s government. Winning these two seats, which the JD(U) had won a year ago, was crucial for Nitish Kumar. Both the contests were fierce, with candidates from both parties going through a see-saw battle as counting progressed.
In Tarapur, the RJD was ahead in the initial rounds, but the final rounds went in favour of JD(U). In Kusheshwar Asthan, the JD(U) was in a stronger position during counting. The Congress candidate got lesser votes than what Chirag Paswan’s candidate got. Lalu’s estranged son Tej Pratap Yadav said, RJD should have allied with the Congress. He blamed Jagadanand Singh and Shivanand Tiwari for the defeat.
The results in Bihar were surely a big setback for Lalu and his political successor Tejashwi Yadav. Both of them had presumed that the people of Bihar were unhappy with Nitish Kumar and their party was sure to win. Had Lalu won both these seats, he would have tried to topple Nitish’s government. There were reports of RJD trying to strike deals with Jitanram Manjhi and Mukesh Sahni, both allies of JD(U). Now with both seats gone, RJD may have a tough time in keeping its flock of legislators together. There is one more outcome. Prospects of future alliance between Congress and RJD in Bihar have now become thin.
Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan had been campaigning for Khandwa LS seat and three other assembly seats as if he was himself contesting all these seats. The results showed that his efforts proved fruitful.
The BJP candidate won by a big margin from Khandwa, and the party won two assembly seats Prithvipur and Jobat. Congress won the Raigaon seat. An elated Chouhan said the people of his state has given him a chance to celebrate both Diwali and Holi at the same time. He said, the party’s win on the two assembly seats, considered Congress strongholds, were nothing short of magic.
During campaigning, Congress leader Kamal Nath had made fun of Chouhan and PM Modi. After the results were out, the chief minister said, Congress leaders should stop flying in air. On the other hand, Kamal Nath said, the party’s fight was against money and administration. Kamal Nath was telling crowds at election meetings that Chouhan would lose his chief ministership and will be called back to Delhi, if BJP lost all the seats.
Finally, Shivraj Singh Chouhan’s image of a hardworking, simple and honest leader, having personal connect with voters, paid dividends. Charges levelled by opposition did not stick. The results should be viewed from another angle too. The Congress had made the new farm bills an issue before the electorate. It had painted the BJP as anti-farmer, anti-Dalit and anti-tribal. But the result from Jobat, a scheduled tribe reserved seat, having 90 per cent tribals, surprised many. The BJP won this seat by a margin of 6,100 votes. This was the second time in last 70 years, when the BJP won this tribal seat. The credit for this win rightly goes to Shivraj Singh Chouhan.
Mamata Banerjee wrested all the four assembly seats that the BJP had won a few months back during the state assembly elections. As counting progressed, I was astonished to find Trinamool Congress candidates leading by huge margins on all seats. Most of the candidates, including those from BJP, lost their deposits.
The Dinhata seat was won in April this year by BJP MP and Union Minister of State Nishith Pramanik, but this time, the TMC candidate Udayan Guha, won by a huge margin of 1,63,000 votes. He polled nearly 84 per cent votes. The Shantipur assembly seat was won by TMC by a margin of more than 64 thousand votes. This seat was won in April by BJP’s Jagannath Sarkar. The Gosaba seat was won by TMC candidate Subrata Mondal by a margin of 1,43,000 votes. He polled 87 per cent of total votes. The Khardah seat was won by Sovandeb Chatterjee by a margin of nearly 94 thousand votes.
Cumulatively, taking into account figures from all the four assembly seats, TMC polled 75 per cent and BJP polled 14 per cent votes. Congress, Left and others could hardly poll 11 pc votes.
While Mamata Banerjee described it as a ‘victory of the people’, BJP leader Kailash Vijayvargiya said, in Mamata’s regime, opposition candidates file nominations, but during campaign time, they have to make rounds of police stations and courts because of fake complaints. Candidates do not get time for campaigning, he said. BJP leader Dilip Ghosh alleged that police helped TMC to win and voters were intimidated.
The reactions from BJP leaders were on expected lines, but the fact remains that across the state, Mamata’s image is both popular and fearsome. The common voters are afraid of the intimidating tactics of Mamata’s party cadre. TMC workers had gone on rampage soon after the assembly polls in May, ransacking homes and targeting opposition supporters. There was widespread violence and several opposition supporters were killed, their womenfolk molested and even raped.
Opposition supporters in Bengal are living in an atmosphere of terror. It was because of this reign of terror that a large number of TMC leaders who had joined BJP, ditched the latter and have rejoined Mamata’s camp. The common voter knows that Mamata is set to rule Bengal for another five years and it would not be wise to annoy her party workers. This was a one-sided victory, because rarely in assembly byelections a candidate polls 87 per cent votes. A rarity.
In Assam too, the byelections results were one-sided with NDA winning all five assembly seats. But there was a basic difference with Bengal. The winning margins were not large in Assam.
The common voters of Assam have shown their faith in chief minister Himanta Biswa Sarma. Three seats were won by BJP and the other two seats were won by its ally, United People’s Party Liberal. The main opposition party in Asssam, Congress, stood third and fourth in two assembly seats. The chief minister credited the victory to “the visionary leadership” of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
The results will surely raise the stature of Himanta Biswa Sarma in BJP, the party he had joined six years ago, after being snubbed by Congress leader Rahul Gandhi. Like Mamata Banerjee, Himanta Biswa Sarma is a popular leader and he has a connect with his roots. Both Mamata and Himanta have their political origin in Congress, but there is a basic difference. Mamata believes in “Ekla Chalo Re” policy, while Himanta believes in taking everybody with him.
In Bengal, Mamata resorted to intimidating tactics against her rivals, while in Assam, Himanta took support from other parties to corner Congress. I believe, Mamata’s victory may have been bigger in terms of votes, but Himanta’s win was larger, morally.
In Rajasthan, chief minister Ashok Gehlot, by winning both the assembly seats, has, for the time being, fended off all challenges from his rival Sachin Pilot. Congress won both the seats, Dhariawad and Vallabhnagar, but independent candidates shone, and BJP candidates performed poorly. BJP needs to put its act together in Rajasthan.
In Himachal Pradesh, chief minister Jairam Thakur failed to retain the crucial Mandi Lok Sabha seat, which falls in his home district. Congress made a clean sweep of the Lok Sabha seat along with three assembly seats. In Mandi, Congress fielded former CM Virbhadra Singh’s widow Pratibha Singh, who won by a slim margin of 7,490 votes. This seat was won in 2019 by BJP’s Ramswaroop Sharma. Chief Minister Jairam Thakur was in charge of campaigning for this crucial Lok Sabha seat.
After the defeat, the CM said, the party would analyse the reasons, but for now, he could say that the Congress made price rise a big issue during the byelection. The results from HP should be taken as a trailer for the forthcoming assembly elections. The results are not a good sign, both for Jairam Thakur and the state BJP.
Mandi is considered a traditional seat of former CM late Virbhadra Singh, but it also falls in Jairam Thakur’s home district. Moreover, the figures from other three assembly seats are alarming for BJP. Cumulatively, Congress got 49 per cent votes from these three seats, while BJP got 28 pc votes. Jairam Thakur’s remark blaming price rise for the defeat, may cause him more harm than the result itself.
Among other results, the ruling YSRCP of Jaganmohan Reddy retained Badvel assembly seat, INLD’s Abhay Chautala retained his Ellenabad seat in Haryana, BJP and Congress won one assembly seat each in Karnataka, Congress won Deglur assembly seat in Maharashtra, NPP won two and UDP won one seat in Meghalaya, MNF won one seat in Mizoram, and NDPP won one assembly seat in Nagaland. Shiv Sena won its first Lok Sabha seat outside Maharashtra, from Dadra Nagar Haveli.
Wherever opposition parties won, their leaders described it as Modi’s defeat, and where BJP won, its leaders said they won because of Modi’s leadership. Both camps know it very well that these byelections had nothing to do with Modi’s popularity or his government’s policies at the Centre. Some Congress leaders said, BJP lost because of rising fuel prices, and the BJP chief minister in Himachal Pradesh said so, in so many words. The question is: Was price rise a matter of concern in HP, and not in MP? Are rising fuel prices a matter of concern in Bengal and not in Assam? The argument about fuel price hike, therefore, becomes meaningless.
The byelections were fought on local issues by state leaders. Wherever the chief ministers toiled hard, they showed good results. These byelections results have nothing to do with Modi nor with price rise. The byelections results reflect the election winning capability of the chief ministers. Among BJP CMs, the stature of Shivraj Singh Chouhan and Himanta Biswa Sarma may surely rise, while among opposition CMs, Mamata Banerjee and Ashok Gehlot may emerge stronger. Nitish Kumar will manage to save his government and Shiv Sena may rejoice over its first win outside Maharashtra. The byelections results should not be read beyond these limitations.
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