If the recent Karnataka assembly elections provided opposition parties a template to edge the BJP out of reckoning, the outcome of Monday’s by-elections to four Lok Sabha seats and the 10 assembly seats across the country will give a clear indication of the picture ahead - whether the opposition unity will make Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP president Amit Shah huff and puff in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections.
However, for now, it is more imperative for the BJP to win all the four Lok Sabha seats as its strength has weakened precariously to 272 from 282.
The opposition appears convinced that it can beat the Modi-Shah combine if they get together like it did after the post-poll tie-up of the Congress and the Janata Dal-Secular in Karnataka.
In March too, Bahujan Samaj Party chief Mayawati and Samajwadi Party leader Akhilesh Yadav came together in the eleventh hour to humiliate Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath in Phulpur and his pocket borough of Gorakhpur in bye-elections.
A greater index of opposition unity will force the Chanakya of ruling dispensation at the Centre sweat more. Surely, a united opposition spells big trouble for the Modi dispensation, especially as the people will question its governance delivery and unkept promises.
At the swearing-in ceremony of Karnataka Chief Minister HD Kumaraswamy, the contours of the opposition grouping were unveiled before the nation. Seen in the same frame were Mayawati and Akhilesh Yadav, Mamata Banerjee and Sitaram Yechury, all beaming with smiles – to show to the nation that together they could halt the relentless and the seemingly unstoppable election machine of the BJP.
Seen in this context, the bye-election to Kairana Lok Sabha seat becomes crucial as it is in Uttar Pradesh the opposition wants to wrest the huge number of seats the BJP won in 2014.
Other than the index of opposition unity, Kairana is drawing the electoral attention, is due to the fact that it will also be the test of the efficacy of Hindutva appeal against the campaign by secular forces.
In this sense, it is not just a mere bye-election but much, much bigger and its outcome would shape the politics of the near future.
Kairana, little over 600 km from Lucknow, has an electorate of 1.7 million with a significant number of Muslims, Jats and Dalits. The constituency fell vacant after the death of BJP parliamentarian Hukum Singh. BJP has fielded his daughter Mriganka Singh against Rashtriya Lok Dal’s (RLD) Tabassum Hasan. He is supported by the Congress, SP and the BSP.
In recent past, this is the first time that a combined opposition is challenging the ruling party – and the impact of the outcome could well indicate whether Modi could return with ease or will be made to work harder or will be stopped.
If the BJP manages to retain Kairana, all the big hullaballoo about opposition unity was just lot of hot air and more important, Hindutva was much more effective as a vote gainer than secularism.
The opposition is getting together on the plank of secularism to oust one person—Narendra Modi. If the BJP puts Kairana past the combined opposition, then the battle for 2019 is over right here itself.
Why Kairana is more important than the other constituencies in Maharashtra and Nagaland going to the bye-elections today is because Uttar Pradesh has 70 seats and the BJP had done exceedingly well with 73 seats in the 2014 general elections. For it to regain power, it is important that the BJP retains Uttar Pradesh because other states that favoured the BJP are undergoing changes on the ground not so favourable to the BJP.
In Rajasthan the BJP had won 25 out of 25, Gujarat 26 out of 26, Madhya Pradesh scored 27 out of 29 and Delhi a clean sweep of all 7 seats and won 7 out of 10 in Haryana. In Rajasthan, going to polls shortly, the BJP seems to be struggling and as electoral history shows, the BJP is likely to bow out and with it its chances of retaining all 25. Similarly, in Gujarat, the Congress performance in assembly polls puts a question mark over the BJP’s centum in the state. If the BJP does not do well in Uttar Pradesh, then it will have to make up for these losses in newer states – North East and South.
South India for the BJP continues to be a no-go area. Which is why the BJP tried its best to conquer Karnataka and nearly did, but ran into the last mile connectivity issue.
Other than Kairana, in UP, Noorpur constituency is voting for assembly bye-poll.
In Maharashtra, another key state for the BJP where it is also the ruling party, interesting battle is ensuing with its ally, the Shiv Sena. Maharashtra is having by-elections to Palghar and Bhandara-Gondia Lok Sabha seats.
The Shiv Sena has fielded Shrinivas Wanaga in Palghar against the wishes of the BJP, which has fielded a Congress turncoat Rajendra Gavit. It is here that Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray called on all opposition parties to come together and teach the BJP a lesson.
If the BJP loses both seats, there will be a spring in the opposition step.
The fourth Lok Sabha bye-poll is in Nagaland, where Nationalist Democratic Progressive Party leader Neiphiu Rio quit the Lok Sabha to become the chief minister. His alliance has fielded former minister Tokheho Yepthomi to the seat.
Other than four Lok Sabha seats, there are assembly bye-polls in West Bengal, Jharkhand, Bihar and Meghalaya. The five assembly seats are Maheshtala in West Bengal, Gomia and Silli in Jharkhand, Jokihat in Bihar and Ampati in Meghalaya. In West Bengal it will be a three-cornered contest with the ruling Trinamool Congress, the BJP and the Left Front in fray and the Congress is sitting out of the contest.
In Meghalaya’s Ampati seat, the fight is mainly between the Congress and the BJP-backed National Peoples Party. Here winning the seat is significant for the Congress as it can become the largest single party if it won the Ampati seat.
The NPP with 19 MLAs is leading a coalition government. Bye-polls are also being held in Punjab’s Shahkot, Uttarakhand’s Tharali and Kerala’s Chengannur assembly constituencies. Other than this, the constituency of Rajarajeswari Nagar in Bengaluru, where polling was withheld earlier, also went for polls today.
This election in Karnataka is not a bye-poll. Voting here was countermanded on May 12 after 9,567 electoral photo identity cards were found in a flat in Bangalore on May 9. Here the fight is between the BJP, the Congress and the JD(S). The outcome here would be indicative of how the coalition government works.