The signals from the assembly by-elections results show the rulling Samajwadi Party is on a sticky wicket in Uttar Pradesh just a year before the assembly polls.
The bypoll results in three seats have made it clear that the party would have to content with anti-incumbency. The 2017 election is likely to be multi-cornered, unlike the assembly polls in 2007 and 2012 when the contest was largely bi-polar—Samajwadi Party vs Bahujan Samaj Party.
Here is what the results indicate for the SP:
1) Conventionally, bypolls almost always tilt in favour of the ruling party. This is precisely what happened in the September 2014 assembly bypolls that were held just four months after the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) swept the 2014 Lok Sabha elections. But, in the bypolls, the SP won seven of all the 11 seats that were previously held by the BJP. This time, the SP lost two of the three seats it had held. This is a clear indication that despite ruling the state with an absolute majority, anti-incumbency was at play in all the three constituencies - Muzaffarnagar, Deoband (Saharanpur) and Bikapur (Faizabad).
2) The results are a shot in the arm for the Congress party which posted a convincing win over the SP in Deoband. The victory would re-energise the Congress cadres and the party leadership in UP.
3) The SP would have a tough time keeping all the Muslim votes to itself. In a scenario where the main opposition BSP did not even contest, Muslims in the Muslim-dominated Deoband went for the Congress instead of the SP. This means Musim votes would get divided.
4) Spending too much energy on local/panchayat polls and taking its eyes off the larger picture does not augur well for the SP. SP chief Mulayam Singh Yadav did exactly what BSP president Mayawati had done in her previous regime — focus on sweeping the panchayat polls. The SP put too much emphasis on the panchayat elections that are not contested on the party symbol in the state. Mulayam, who hardly took any disciplinary action against leaders and cadre when the party’s tally fell to a miserable five in the Lok Sabha elections, sent the cadre in a tizzy by engaging in expulsions and suspension on charges of indiscipline/anti-party activities vis-à-vis panchayat elections.
5) When the SP expelled two Akhilesh Yadav loyalist youth leaders and suspended five MLAs over the panchayat elections shortly before the bypolls, the effect was demoralising for the party cadre. Eventually, the party revoked these expulsions and suspension.
6) All the three seats—Bikapur, Deoband and Muzaffarnagar—fell vacant following the deaths of SP MLAs. The party, instead of selecting candidates on merit, gave tickets to widows and sons of those who passed away. The sympathy factor, however, failed to work.
7) Though the Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD) and Janata Dal(United) combine did not win a seat, their experiment of contesting the election together resulted in the alliance coming to a close second in Faizabad and a distant third in Muzaffarnagar. This indicates that if Sharad Yadav and Ajit Singh really go ahead and bring about an alliance in UP by taking more parties on board, the SP’s applecart would be upset. The alliance would hurt the SP’s traditional vote bank — the backwards.