The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) suffered a major blow in a clutch of assembly by-elections on Tuesday, ceding ground even in its traditional strongholds barely four months after its spectacular Lok Sabha victory.
The loss piles pressure on the BJP brass and party president Amit Shah to deliver in crucial assembly elections in Maharashtra and Haryana next month. It also hands a stronger bargaining chip to its allies, especially the Shiv Sena which is eyeing a larger share of seats and the chief minister’s post in Maharashtra.The results signal a waning of the BJP’s tide. And while it also confirms that Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s appeal may broadly hold nationally, some of his party’s controversial, divisive strategies like the so-called ‘love jihad’ campaign may have backfired, especially in Uttar Pradesh where the elections were fought in the backdrop of shrill right-wing rhetoric.
The BJP’s biggest humiliation came from UP, where it lost seven seats to the Samajwadi Party. It even failed to win the prestigious Rohaniya seat which falls under Modi’s constituency, Varanasi, for its ally Apna Dal.
The reverses overshadowed the entry of the BJP’s first member in the West Bengal assembly in 15 years.
“The Modi government’s honeymoon period is over,” Congress general secretary Shakeel Ahmed said. “This is perhaps (the) first government whose anti-incumbency has begun within 100 days of coming to power. Alarm bells are ringing for the BJP. This is a good omen for secular forces that people have started rejecting them.”
The results help the Congress reinforce its position as a credible opposition. It breached the BJP strongholds without much help from its star campaigners, signalling that the party could do well if it groomed state leaders.
Hours after the results were out, Prime Minister Modi told a pre-scheduled party workers’ meeting, “The BJP’s specialty is the sincerity of its workers, their hard work and organisational strength.”
The BJP could retain just 13 of the 23 assembly seats it held earlier. The SP and Congress improved their tally by seven and five seats, respectively. In both Gujarat and Rajasthan, the BJP lost three assembly seats to the Congress. Mulayam Singh Yadav’s SP turned the tables on the BJP to win a surprising eight assembly seats in UP."The BJP leaders thought voters were in their pockets. This is an eye-opener for the BJP government," said Congress’ Rajasthan unit chief Sachin Pilot.
In the BJP camp, there was a call for introspection. “State workers and leaders need to introspect on this,” said union minister Uma Bharti.
“The reasons behind the defeat will be reviewed. It has given us a lesson for the Vidhan Sabha polls,” said UP BJP president Laxmi Kant Bajpai.
By-elections were also held for three Lok Sabha seats — Mainpuri in Uttar Pradesh, Vadodara in Gujarat, which had been vacated by Modi, and Medak in Telangana.
The BJP won the Vadodara seat while the SP won in Mainpuri. The Telangana Rashtra Samithi won the Medak seat. In Vadodara, the winning margin slipped to 3.29 lakh votes from Modi’s 5.7 lakh votes.
The saffron brigade won one assembly seat in Assam. The CPI(M) lost one more seat in West Bengal but won a seat in Tripura.