There is no mistaking the fact that Opposition unity is posing a major challenge to the BJP in byelections across the country. Coming close on the heels of the Karnataka Assembly elections where the BJP, though the single largest party, had to eat the humble pie with the Congress joining hands with the Janata Dal-Secular in a post-poll arrangement, it rings alarm bells for the BJP.
The BJP indeed needs to get its act together before it is too late, with elections due later this year in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh which are all BJP-ruled states where anti-incumbency could run high, and subsequently in the general elections next year which would be decided on the Narendra Modi government at the Centre.
This time around, in byelections, there is little to cheer about for the BJP. The most significant defeat for it has been in Kairana in Uttar Pradesh where Rashtriya Lok Dal's (RLD) Tabassum Hasan supported by the Congress, Samajwadi Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party trounced the BJP candidate Mriganka Singh by over 55,000 votes. After the defeats in Gorakhpur and Phulpur recently, the BJP had resolved to win Kairana come what may but Opposition unity robbed it of a victory.
While Opposition unity is the obvious cause of BJP’s defeat, the coming together of Muslims and Jats has also contributed greatly to it.
This is no mean setback for Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath and poses a question mark on his suitability for the high office.
It must be conceded, however, that one key factor for BJP’s losses was that Prime Minister Modi does not campaign in byelections. In the general elections, the party would have Modi in full flow with his blitzkrieg style, phenomenal stamina and breathtaking oratory which have turned the tables on the opposition time and again.
Yet, the party needs to shed complacency and sit up.
The real crunch would come for the Opposition because it has no leader to lead the ragtag combine of disparate forces to measure up to Modi. The Congress’ Rahul Gandhi has proved time and again that he is no match for Modi. Nor is he acceptable to many of the Opposition parties. All other prospective challengers are at best regional leaders with little mass appeal across India.
The BJP can draw comfort from the fact that it mauled its friend-turned rival Shiv Sena in a prestigious contest in Palghar Lok Sabha constituency of Maharashtra. But the satisfaction was tempered by its loss to the Nationalist Congress Party in Bhandara-Gondiya in a Lok Sabha contest, supported as the NCP candidate was by the combined opposition. The margin was narrow.
In Bihar’s Jokihat Assembly constituency, it was the jailed Lalu Prasad Yadav’s RJD now headed by his son Tejashwi Yadav that trounced Chief Minister Nitish Kumar’s Janata Dal (United) and the BJP which were fighting a joint battle. That shows that the electorate is with Lalu despite the plethora of corruption judicial verdicts against him. How the coalition of Nitish and Sushil Modi would win over the people in the run-up to the Lok Sabha elections remains to be seen.
In Chengannur Assembly byelection in Kerala and Maheshtala in West Bengal, the result was along predictable lines, with victories for the CPM in the former and for Trinamool Congress in the latter. While the BJP stamped its authority as the main runner-up in West Bengal, it was wide off its goal of winning, being unable to neutralise Mamata Banerjee’s undoubted charisma and hold.
While the BJP won the lone byelection seat in Uttarakhand, it was the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha that bagged both seats in Jharkhand. The Nagaland seat was won by the Congress which made the party the single largest in that state.
All in all, the byelections were a blow to the BJP and a boost for the Opposition. But opposition unity is still to be tested on the question of leadership and the Modi charisma can hardly be wished away, knowing his tremendous skill at swaying masses. Yet, the byelections are a wake-up call for the BJP.