The verdict from Tuesday’s by-elections to 12 assembly seats provided the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) a much needed electoral relief to open a new year. The party had a rough ride last year that started with its rout in Delhi. A crushing defeat in Bihar and a poor show in panchayat elections in stronghold Gujarat lowered morale.
However, Tuesday indicates that the BJP has managed to stop the losing spree as it prepares to face elections in four states and a union territory two months from now. This is significant on three counts.
First, the NDA wrested three seats from the Congress in Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh and Punjab. Congress is not only BJP’s main rival on a national scale, but the two are also locked in a close contest in Assam that is due to vote by June. BJP leaders argue that the by-elections reflected the people’s anti-Congress mood.
“There is an anger in public against negative tendency of obstructing country’s development and economic progress of Congress and its associates, and people will continue to respond properly in the same manner in the coming days,” BJP chief Amit Shah said.
Second, coming ahead of the budget session of the Parliament in which crucial bills will be up for discussion and passage, the verdict gives BJP a chance to be on the offence. The party was left in a completely defensive position during the last Parliament session as it followed the Bihar debacle.
Shah said the victory was the people’s mandate against the opposition’s baseless propaganda, criticism and negative politics to obstruct the Centre’s development works by blocking the Parliament. “People have shown the real truth to such anti-development groups via this victory,” he argued.
Third, the BJP wrested the communally sensitive Muzaffarnagar assembly seat from the ruling Samajwadi Party in Uttar Pradesh. It helps the BJP counter the belief that the numerically significant Jats who dominate Western UP are disenchanted with the saffron party. Any gain in Uttar Pradesh is crucial as it aims to win country’s most populous state in 2017 to build the narrative for the 2019 Lok Sabha poll.
The voting on these seats took place on February 13, at the height of the JNU controversy that is centered around nationalism and those allegedly against it. Party leaders have alluded to the possibility of the issue playing a role in the BJP’s scorecard.