Local, regional fault lines key in state battles
There is no established co-relation seen in recent years between by-polls and the outcome of larger elections, both state and national.Updated: Oct 25, 2019 07:15 IST
By-polls for 51 assembly seats, across 16 states and one Union Territory, have brought cheer to some incumbents and dismay to others. The results reinforced certain political patterns in some states, and marked a possible rupture in others. But beyond it all, they were a reflection of particularities in the local politics of each state and regional variations, and displayed a certain balance wherein no side emerged dominant.
But first two caveats.
By-polls, many held because former legislators moved on to the Lok Sabha after the recent national elections are often understood to be loaded in favour of the party in power; voters ostensibly calculate that it is better to elect a representative who can have access to the ruling dispensation. Second, there is no established co-relation seen in recent years between by-polls and the outcome of larger elections, both state and national.
But even in this backdrop, Thursday’s results throw up a set of interesting results.
For one, incumbents have, for most part, done well. In Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh, Congress, which rules the states, won one seat each. In Tamil Nadu, the ruling All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazagham won both seats. In Odisha, the ruling Biju Janata Dal won the one seat. In Puducherry, the ruling Congress won a seat. In Himachal Pradesh, the BJP, which is in power, was victorious in the two seats. In Telangana, the Telangana Rashtra Samithi won, comfortably, one seat. In Assam, the BJP — in power for since three years —won three of the four seats. In Punjab, the Congress government, led by Amarinder Singh, won three of the four seats. And in the critical state of Uttar Pradesh, BJP — along with a smaller ally — won eight of the 11 seats.
But while this is the larger norm, there are strong exceptions, which will impact the future politics of the respective states. The most prominent of these is Bihar. Five seats went to polls in the state — the Nitish Kumar-led Janata Dal (United) contested four of those five seats, but was able to win only one. This would raise serious questions about Kumar’s political appeal and governance record. The Rashtriya Janata Dal, missing Lalu Prasad’s presence following his arrest, amid Tejaswi Yadav’s intriguingly sporadic presence in the political theatre, and following major Lok Sabha election reverses, managed to win three of the seats. And Asaduddin Owaisi’s AIMIM made a significant breakthrough in an assembly segment of Muslim-dominated Kishanganj. The outcome could affect future seat-sharing and power-sharing negotiations between the BJP and Nitish Kumar for state polls in 2020.
The second exception is Gujarat. Out of six seats that went to polls, the BJP won three and the Congress three. The latter continued to retain its hold in rural pockets. The by-polls also saw the defeat of Alpesh Thakor, a young OBC leader, who had moved from the Congress to the BJP.
The third exception is Rajasthan, where the Congress won one seat, but lost another to a BJP ally, showing that the politics of the state remains competitive and no side quite has the edge when it comes to state-level dynamics. And final exception is Kerala, where the ruling Left won two seats, but Congress and the IUML won three seats.
UP saw the continued dominance of the BJP. It had defeated the combined alliance of SP and BSP in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls. This time, SP and BSP fought separately. The latter, which traditionally does not contest by-polls, failed to win, while SP emerged as the primary opposition, with 3 seats. Congress failed to win.
BJP won three seats in Assam, which has been rocked by the declaration of the updated NRC. In Sikkim, the BJP won two of three seats. This is the first time the party has won in the state.
And in Punjab, the Congress wins also included Jalalabad, a seat which was held by Akali Dal leader Sukhbir Singh Badal for the last decade, before he moved on to the Lok Sabha this year. The defeat in his own seat would be a considerable setback for the former deputy CM of the state.
The electoral results in the by-polls are largely a product of particularities in the constituency and the state, and are driven by specific caste or local antagonisms and alliances. It would be best not to over interpret them. Yet, the poll results show that the wins are spread across parties and indicate that democratic competition remains robust at the local level.