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Bypoll results: 2018 shows 2019 won’t be 2014

The bypoll results establish the power of alliances between really strong parties. It also proves that worries about rigged EVMs are exaggerated. And it hints that the 2019 Lok Sabha election may not be a cakewalk for the BJP

editorials Updated: Mar 14, 2018 20:07 IST
Hindustan Times
One reason for this could be low turnout. Gorakhpur saw 47% turnout and Phulpur, 37% in the by-elections. Did the BJP’s traditional supporters, confident, perhaps overly so, of a victory for their party, stay away? (Representative Photo)(AFP)

A year is a long time in politics. Almost exactly a year ago, the BJP-led NDA swept the assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh, winning 325 of the 403 seats. That sweep was in keeping with the party’s performance in the 2014 parliamentary elections, when the party won 71 of the 80 Lok Sabha seats in the state.

If 2014 was the first sign that the BJP was the most powerful political force in India’s most populous state, then 2017 was a reiteration.

That’s why Wednesday’s verdict — the BJP lost by-elections to two seats in the state — is all the more significant. The BJP is the dominant force in the Centre. It rules the state of Uttar Pradesh. One of the two seats in which by-elections were held, Gorakhpur, is the pocket borough of chief minister Yogi Adityanath. The other, Phulpur, is where the current deputy chief minister of the state won from in the 2014 parliamentary polls. It isn’t clear whether a party has ever lost a Lok Sabha seat vacated by its sitting chief minister. In 1971, TN Singh, then the UP chief minister, lost the by-election from the Maniram assembly constituency of Gorakhpur, and had to resign (years later, the same fate would befall Shibu Soren in Jharkhand).

By-elections aren’t general elections, but the nature of the BJP’s defeat in both constituencies — by 59.613 votes in Phulpur and 21.961 votes in Gorakhpur — indicates that the law of averages is finally catching up with the BJP.

So, what explains this?

The first, of course, is that the Samajwadi Party and the BSP, traditional rivals, and with reasonably mutually exclusive bases, fought the elections together. That, though, doesn’t explain it all.

In the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, the BJP won Gorakhpur with 51.8% of the vote share; the BSP and the SP together had 39.6%. Similarly, the BJP won Phulpur in 2014 with 52.43% of the vote; the SP and the BSP together had 37.38.

These numbers indicate a significant swing in favour of the SP and BSP.

One reason for this could be low turnout. Gorakhpur saw 47% turnout and Phulpur 37% in the by-elections. Did the BJP’s traditional supporters, confident, perhaps overly so, of a victory for their party, stay away?

Another reason could be the lingering effects of demonetisation and the teething trouble over the implementation of the Goods and Services Tax, both of which hit small businesses and traders hard, and the on-going agrarian crisis in India.

As an aside, in Araria, in Bihar, the RJD won the Lok Sabha by-election, defeating the BJP-JDU alliance.

The result establishes the power of alliances between really strong parties. The RJD and the JDU proved this in Bihar before they fought and went their separate ways — also highlighting the basic problem with such partnerships. It also proves that worries about rigged EVMs are exaggerated and that the Indian democratic process is fairly strong. And it hints that the 2019 Lok Sabha election may not be a cakewalk for the BJP.

First Published: Mar 14, 2018 19:29 IST