By-Navin Upadhyay

A week ago, in an informal chat with journalists about the party’s prospects in the bypolls, BJP president Amit Shah had predicted that the BJP will win in Palghar but may face tough contest in Kairana. Shah had rightly sensed that after four years in power, the BJP’s fortune now depended on the index of Opposition unity.

The bypoll results of 10 States covering four Lok Sabha seats and 10 Assembly seats show that the tide is turning against the BJP. The LS bypoll results were equally divided between the BJP-led alliance (two) and the Opposition parties (also two), but the outcome of the 10 Assembly bypolls came as a big setback for the ruling party which could win just one seat in Uttarakhand.

The Congress bagged three (in Meghalaya, Karnataka and Punjab) and others got six —JMM 2 in Jharkhand; CPI (M), SP, RJD and Trinamool 1 each in Kerala, UP, Bihar and West Bengal, respectively. The Congress also won one Assembly seat in Maharashtra without contest after all other parties withdrew their candidates.

UNITED OPPThe results sent another interesting message that like Uttar Pradesh, the BJP could face serious trouble in Maharashtra if the Opposition, including the Shiv Sena, was able to ensure a one-and-one contest. This was clear in Bhandara-Gondiya, where NCP’s Madhukar Kukade defeated Hemant Patle of the BJP by 48,097 votes. At Palghar, BJP’s Rajendra Gavit won the seat defeating Shiv Sena’s Shrinivas Wanaga.

The BJP may rejoice its Palghar victory, but the Sena came a close second and ensured that the saffron party’s victory margin came down from 2,00,300 to a mere 29,572 votes. The Bahujan Vikas Aghadi (BVA), which had won this seat in the 2009 Lok Sabha elections but lost it to the BJP in 2014, also polled close to 2 lakh votes, while the Congress came a distant fourth with 40,000 votes. It’s clear like in Gondiya, where the Sena didn’t put up its candidate. If the NCP and the Congress were united, and there was no BVA in the race, the verdict could have been entirely different.

After the BJP lost Gorakhpur and Phulpur bypolls to the BSP-SP combine, the BJP put all its might to win Kairana. A victory here could have been a psychological booster for the party which is yet to recover from losing at the home turfs of the UP Chief Minister and the Deputy Chief Minister only two months ago. The poll-eve roadshow held by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Delhi and his public meeting in Baghpat was a clear attempt to send message to the voters in Kairana. The BJP had also fielded many of its stalwarts to regain the seat which its late MP Hukum Singh had won by over 2.5 lakh votes four years ago.

On the other hand, both SP chief Akhilesh Yadav and BSP supremo Mayawati did not even campaign in Kairana. However, both these leaders were able to transfer their vote bank to the RLD candidate, Tabassum Hasan. This is something which the BJP should worry about.

The BSP and the SP have been bitter rivals for ages. If their vote banks could come together so spontaneously, UP would become a very dangerous terrain for the BJP in 2019.

While Tabassum Hasan won the Kairana seat by a margin of 44,618 votes, Naeemul Hasan of the Samajwadi Party bagged the Noorpur Assembly seat by a margin on 5,662 votes. Both seats were earlier held by the BJP. in Kairana. Tabassum polled 4,81,182 votes, while the BJP’s Mriganka Singh got 4,36,564 votes, the election office here said. Hasan (48) has now become the first Muslim face from Uttar Pradesh in the 16th Lok Sabha.

Kairana’s loss also shows that the BJP cannot hold against the united Opposition across the State, be it Gorakhpur in eastern UP, Phulpur in Central UP, and Kairana in Western UP. The Kairana verdict also shows that UP was ready to leave behind the communal hatred triggered by 2013 Muzaffarnagar riots and attempts at polarisation may not work so effectively any more.

The outcome of Jharkhand also showed that the BJP stood no chance against a united Opposition. The JMM, which was supported by the Congress and other Opposition parties, retained both Silli and Gomia Assembly seats in the by-election.

The bypoll has also come as a rude shock to Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar. The JD(U) suffered crushing defeat in the Muslim-dominated Jokihat Assembly bypoll. The ruling party, which had been winning this seat for 13 years, lost it to the RJD whose Shahnawaz Alam defeated JD(U)’s Murshid Alam by a margin of 41,124 votes. The top leaders of the JD(U) including party chief and Chief Minister Nitish Kumar had campaigned and senior leaders of his party including Ministers had camped in the Muslim-dominated constituency in a bid to retain it.

The result shows that Muslims have abandoned Nitish Kumar after he joined hands with the BJP. The outcome showed that the way CBI and other agencies have gone against Lalu Prasad and his family is generating strong sense of sympathy towards the RJD.

As expected In West Bengal, the ruling Trinamool Congress registered an impressive victory in the Maheshtala Assembly bypoll defeating its nearest rival BJP by a margin of 62,765 votes. TMC candidate Dulal Das secured 1,04,818 votes as against 42,053 votes bagged by the BJP’s Sujit Ghosh, a senior EC official said. Left Front’s Prabhat Chowdhury was third with 30,384 votes.

The BJP had the consolation of retaining the Tharali Assembly seat in Uttarakhand by a slim margin. Its candidate Munni Devi Shah defeated Congress nominee Jeetram by 1,981 votes.

The Congress retained the RR Nagar Assembly seat in Karnataka by a huge margin in a triangular contest. The election here was counteredmanded after recovery of thousands of fake voter identity cards.

In Punjab, Congress’ Hardev Singh Ladi wrested Shahkot from the Shiromani Akali Dal. Chief Minister Amarinder Singh hailed the victory as a “vindication” of the Government’s people-centric policies.

In Kerala, the CPI(M)-led LDF retained the Chengannur seat by a huge margin. LDF’s CPI(M) candidate Saji Cherian defeated his UDF rival, D Vijayakumar of the Congress, by a margin of 20,956 votes while the NDA suffered a big setback as BJP candidate PS Sreedharan Pillai came a distant third.

Six months ago, the BJP looked invincible under the Modi-Shah combine. But the coming together of Mayawati and Akhilesh proved a game-changer for the Opposition. Karnataka took the Opposition unity a notch further. If the Opposition was able to put up a united face, by all indication, the country will witness thriller of a general election next year.

-The Pioneer |01 June 2018 |New Delhi