Parties wait for signals from last Lok Sabha bypolls before 2019 elections

New Delhi, Hindustan Times | By
May 30, 2018 10:05 PM IST

Results of Lok Sabha bypolls in Kairana, Palghar, Bhandara-Gondia and Nagaland are being being widely watched for their larger national political message and impact on alliances

In the last round of Lok Sabha bypolls before the 2019 general election, Kairana in Uttar Pradesh, Palghar and Bhandara-Gondia in Maharashtra, and Nagaland will see new members of Parliament elected on Thursday.

Polling and presiding officers collect Electronic Voting Machines and Voter Verifiable Paper Audit Trail machines on the eve of polling for Phulpur Lok Sabha seat, in Allahabad, on Saturday.(PTI file photo)
Polling and presiding officers collect Electronic Voting Machines and Voter Verifiable Paper Audit Trail machines on the eve of polling for Phulpur Lok Sabha seat, in Allahabad, on Saturday.(PTI file photo)

The bypolls, which saw the entire Opposition closing ranks against the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in UP; the BJP and its traditional ally, the Shiv Sena, pitted against each other in Maharashtra; and the Congress and the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) come back together, is being widely watched for its larger national political message and impact on alliances.

Polling for the four Lok Sabha seats and nine assembly constituencies in Bihar (Jokihat), UP (Noorpur), Meghalaya (Ampati), West Bengal (Maheshtala), Uttarakhand (Tharali), Jharkhand (Gomia and Silli), Kerala (Chengannur), and Punjab (Shahkot), were held on May 28. In Maharashtra’s Palus Kadegaon, the Congress candidate was elected unopposed.

The polling was accompanied by widespread charges by the opposition parties about the malfunctioning of Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) and Voter Verification Audit Paper Trial Machines (VVPATs). The Election Commission dismissed the reports as “exaggerated”, and clarified that 96 ballot units, 84 control units of EVMs and 1202 VVPATs had to be replaced. There were fresh elections at 73 booths in Kairana, 49 booths in Bhandara-Gondia and one booth in Nagaland on Wednesday.

All eyes are now on the outcome, especially in UP, where the BJP recently lost the Gorakhpur and Phulpur bypolls.

In Kairana, the Ajit Singh-Jayant Chaudhary led Rashtriya Lok Dal’s (RLD) candidate, Tabassum Hasan, was supported by the Samajwadi Party (SP), the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and the Congress, which did not put up candidates. The BJP candidate is Mriganka Singh, daughter of the former MP, Hukum Singh, whose death caused the bypoll.

An RLD leader stationed in Kairana said, “We are absolutely confident that we will win this round. The only question is if the margin will be above a lakh. Jats have returned to the party; Muslims have consolidated against BJP and Dalits are backing us. Together, this makes for a winning combination in the seat.”

In the constituency with approximately 16 lakh voters, estimates suggest there are over five and a half lakh Muslims and over two lakh Jats. The BJP, in turn, is relying on a consolidation of Gujjar, Jat, Kashyap, Saini and a section of Dalit votes. “There is also (Hindu-Muslim) polarisation. Let us see,” said a UP-based leader of the party.

Anil Baluni, the BJP’s media cell head and Rajya Sabha MP, said that the BJP was absolutely confident of winning. “We are very positive. Bypolls are fought on local issues, but we are confident.”

Party president, Amit Shah, in recent press interactions, has emphasised, in the context of past bypoll losses, that voters in such elections vote differently, on local issues — when they are aware that this will not impact government formation in the state or at the centre.

The Congress claimed that BJP has already conceded defeat. “The Kairana results haven’t yet come out and the BJP has already conceded defeat,” spokesman RPN Singh said.

Experts believe that Kairana will send out a national message.

“Kairana is really important because it will answer a central question of the politics of our times. The BJP won Kairana with 2.5 lakh votes in 2014; it is adjacent to Muzaffarnagar in a belt known for the communal tensions; and the balance in the constituency broadly rests between Hindu, Jats and Muslims,” explained Neelanjan Sircar, Senior Fellow at the Centre for Policy Research.

He added, “In this election, we have a Jat party (RLD) putting a Muslim candidate (Hasan) in an overall direct or indirect alliance (with SP-BSP and Congress). If the opposition wins, it shows their ability to overcome the most extreme form of communal polarisation. The BJP will see it as a signal it is in trouble.”

The Maharashtra outcome will be important too.

In Palghar, despite being in government in both at the centre and in the state, the Shiv Sena has put up a candidate against the BJP. This comes in the wake of public acrimony between the two allies. If it wins, it is expected to enhance its bargaining power with the BJP in 2019 in terms of seat sharing, or even open up options for it to contest independently.

In Bhandara-Gondia, there is a direct BJP-NCP battle, with the NCP supported by the Congress. The two parties have come together for the first time in a major election; they have had alliances for local polls but fought separately in both the Lok Sabha and the assembly.

But if the BJP wins both seats, it will be a big boost to CM Devendra Fadnavis; it will ensure that the BJP’s negotiating power with the Shiv Sena increases; and it will force a rethink of strategies in the Congress-NCP camp.

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