Bypoll results buoy up ruling alliance

The Congress-Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) alliance in Maharashtra is in an upbeat mood after the bye-election results in Bihar and Karnataka, where the BJP has failed to perform, despite its resounding victory in the recent Lok Sabha elections.

The results are certainly a worrying factor for the Shiv Sena-BJP alliance in the state, as out of the 18 seats at stake in four states, the Congress and allies won ten, while the BJP alliance took eight. Has the Modi magic dissipated so quickly is the question being discussed here, with the state legislative assembly elections less than two months away.

The bye-elections have come in time for both the major alliances in the state which continue to stand in the dark over the ticklish issue of seat-sharing for these elections. The Congress is demoralised in the state as it failed miserably in the Lok Sabha elections, while the Sharad Pawar-led NCP, which got double the number of Lok Sabha seats in the state, is pressurising the Congress for more seats. Now, with the heartening results in other states, some self-confidence has been restored and Congress leaders in the state may not buckle under so easily with the NCP pressure.

The state Congress and the NCP leaders in the state appear to be in a euphoric mood after the debacle of the BJP and its allies in the recent bye-elections in four states. In the first bye-elections after the Lok Sabha polls, the BJP had lost all three assembly seats in Uttarakhand shortly after winning all five LS seats in the hill state. This should serve as enough warning to the hawkish elements within the BJP to take a second look at the states going in for assembly elections, rather than keeping harping on their past electoral fortune in the Lok Sabha elections.

At the same time, the ruling alliance in the state cannot forget that the situation in Maharashtra is not as easy as they think, whether or not the Modi magic is on. The bye elections results in the four states have shown that BJP and its allies are vulnerable and people really think differently when it comes to electing a government in Delhi and one in the state. But for the Congress and the NCP in Maharashtra, the situation is different, since they have been ruling the state for the last 15 years without a break and are facing a solid anti-incumbency factor. So even if the electorate has sided with the BJP and the Shiv Sena during Lok Sabha elections but is disappointed that the expected acchhe din are not to be seen, it is not likely to support the Congress-NCP alliance.

But there is a little comfort in the fact that the BJP and its allies are not invincible, but can also be challenged and defeated, despite the stunning majority won by Narendra Modi in the general election. It may appear strange, but the Shiv Sena, which was under pressure from the BJP to concede more seats for the coming state legislative assembly, may find the BJP’s defeat in these bye-elections a blessing in disguise. Hopefully for the Sena, this outcome should tame the hawks in the BJP camp, who have been demanding more seats and denying the Sena its importance as a Mahayuti partner. The saffron alliance must tackle two issues – one, that of seat-sharing, with the BJP demanding 50 per cent of the 288 seats to be contested and two, the question of who should be the next chief minister of the state if their alliance is able to win more than 143 seats in the elections.

The BJP’s youth brigade has been demanding that a BJP candidate should be the next chief minister. This is based on the assumption that the BJP will win more seats than the Shiv Sena. But the Sena is not amused, as it considers itself the mainstay of the saffron alliance in the state and feels it should get the honour of picking out the next chief minister. Obviously, the Sena wants to see its chief, Uddhav Thackeray as the next chief minister.

The BJP as well as the Sena leaders have now realised that they cannot be fully assured of victory in the coming assembly elections. Just because the saffron alliance won 42 out of 48 Lok Sabha seats, the alliance cannot assume that it will repeat the performance in the coming assembly elections. The two thorny issues of seat-sharing and the chief ministership may just keep them from capturing power in the state.

This infighting has also caused worries to the smaller parties led by Ramdas Athawale, Raju Shetti and others. But there is also some relief that with a drubbing in the bye-elections, the saffron alliance’s euphoria will be over and it will have to consider ground realities, instead of making making tall claims.

They also know that unless the Sena-BJP sorts out its problems, it will have no time for the smaller partners of the Mahayuti. They point to Battleground Bihar, where the last-minute patch-up between sworn rivals Lalu Prasad Yadav and Nitish Kumar helped defeat the  resurgent BJP. If the Congress and NCP also put up such a spirited fight in Maharashtra, it would be very difficult for the Mahayuti to seize power.

 Ultimately what is important is the voters’ perception of the alliance which will provide stable governance. If they see Sena and BJP leaders clamouring for power and fighting over who should lead the government, they may not wholeheartedly support the alliance as they did in the Lok Sabha elections. The saffron alliance has to understand that it was a victory in which Modi’s aggressive and proven leadership and well-planned campaign also played a very significant role. Failure to read the message held out by the results of the recent bypolls may result in a fractured mandate.

Prakash Bal Joshi

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