Local voting patterns show sharp contrast with central
Results of four assembly bypolls held in the states of Chhattisgarh, Kerala, Uttar Pradesh and Tripura were announced on Friday. The party/alliance in power won in all . This is not surprising.
A closer look at the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) performance in these bypolls underlines the larger trend which was seen in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. This is the importance of the Narendra Modi factor. The BJP’s vulnerabilities are significantly greater at the local level, especially against a potential opposition alliance, but it successfully overcomes them in a high-stakes election for Modi.
The Hamirpur assembly bypoll in Uttar Pradesh is the best example. The BJP was won this election with 39% vote share. This is five percentage points less than the combined vote share of the Samajwadi Party (SP) and the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP). A grand alliance of these two regional players was expected to inflict major losses on the BJP in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections.
The idea received a boost from the BJP’s loss in Gorakhpur and Kairana Lok Sabha bypolls. The grand alliance did not live up to its potential suggested by pre-2019 arithmetic. The BJP and its ally Apna Dal (AD) got 64 seats with 50.7% of total vote share in Uttar Pradesh, 7.4 percentage point more than what it had in 2014. The SP-BSP alliance did not survive this debacle and the BSP announced in June this year that it would be contesting the forthcoming bypolls on its own. The result may perhaps trigger a rethink within both the SP and the BSP.
In Tripura too, the story is similar. Had the Communist Party of India (Marxist) and Congress contested together, they would have polled more votes than the BJP, which won the Bhadraghat seat with 44% votes. This was not the case in both the 2018 assembly and the 2019 Lok Sabha election in the state. In Chhattisgarh, a state where the Congress went from winning a three-fourth majority in the assembly in December 2018 to just two out of eleven Lok Sabha seats in the 2019 Lok Sabha, the Congress won the Dantewada assembly bypoll. In the Lok Sabha, the BJP had a lead of 7.1 percentage points over the Congress in this assembly segment.
Even in Pala assembly seat in Kerala, which the CPI(M) led Left Democratic Front’s partner Nationalist Congress Party has won for the first time --Pala was a bastion of late K M Mani of the Kerala Congress (Mani) -- the BJP’s performance has dipped significantly between the Lok Sabha and assembly polls.
When seen in consonance with the 2019 results, especially in states such as Uttar Pradesh, the latest bypoll results tell us that Indian voters do display very different preferences in national and local elections. What explains this behaviour? The easiest answer seems to be the appeal of Narendra Modi. It can be said that they are willing to desert their traditional parties to boost Modi’s chances of getting re-elected.