Bypolls 2018: BJP no longer invincible, Opposition limits saffron party and allies to 3

New Delhi: A string of losses in the by-elections is the first indication that the Modi magic is on the wane and that the once-invincible party is on shaky ground in the run up to the general elections next year. This is likely to goad the BJP into a series of desperate measures if it hopes to have a fighting chance of returning to power next year. Before that, it has to also slug it out for retaining three states of Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh and oust the Congress from Mizoram; these states go to polls in November.

Though the BJP was boasting all this while that it has pocketed the North East, the democratic alliance government backed by it in Meghalaya has come under strain as the Congress is now the single largest party with 21 MLAs in the 60-member Assembly. The most resounding was the BJP defeat in Kairana Lok Sabha by-poll in Uttar Pradesh, the reverberations of which will be felt in 2019.

The defeat in UP came on the heels of its earlier loss in Gorakhpur and Phulpur, both key seats held by Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath and Deputy Chief Minister Keshav Prasad, respectively. The severe setbacks, in quick succession, despite holding power in the State as also at the Centre is certainly a big blow, particularly since BJP also lost Nurpur Assembly seat in Bijnor district to the Samajwadi Party’s Naimul Hassan by 6678 votes.In Kairana, Opposition candidate Tabassum Hasan of Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD) supported by the Congress, the Samajwadi Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party, trounced Mriganka Singh, daughter of the late BJP MP Hukum Singh whose death caused the by-election.

The Lok Dal, a faction that split from the RLD, withdrew its candidate from the electoral contest, making it a head-to-head fight between the BJP and a united opposition. The opposition consolidated all the anti-BJP votes, as it did in Gorakhpur and Phulpur by-elections earlier this year. Kairana poll had become a prestige issue for the BJP, so much so that Prime Minister

Narendra Modi even addressed a rally at Baghpat and inaugurated a highway that was not even fully ready, just a day before the polls on Sunday. Most of the crowd ferried by the BJP was from the villages of Kairana; and even on the polling day on Monday many Muslim voters returned home without voting because of malfunctioning EVMs, as they were observing ‘Ramzan’ fast and could not stand in heat.

Everyone in BJP knows that if they don’t fare well in Uttar Pradesh in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, the odds are against their returning to power at the Centre. The message is not expected to go down well with PM Modi, who is away in Indonesia to address the Shagri-La Dialogue, Asia’s top defence summit.

After the highly dramatic election in Karnataka and the BJP’s bid to usurp power, the country witnessed much political intrigue but it helped bring Congress and JD (S) on a common platform, which is turn became a harbinger of Opposition unity.

The by-elections are also important because three out of the four Lok Sabha seats were held by the BJP. In 2014, it had won Kairana as also Bhandara-Gondia and Palgarh in Maharashtra. In Palghar, the ties between the BJP and its ally Shiv Sena are strained ever since the latter decided to nominate the son of its late MP, Chintaman Wanaga, as their candidate. It is the only seat that BJP could retain.

It, however, lost the Bhandara-Gondia seat to the Congress-backed NCP candidate Madhukar Kukde. The seat had fallen vacant after BJP’s Nana Patole quit the party and joined the Congress. The BJP also had the consolation of winning the Tharali Assembly by-election, where it had fielded the late MLA Maganlal Shah’s wife Munni Devi. But the seat was won by a slender margin. The assembly seats won by the Congress included Shahkot in Punjab, an Akali bastion, and the Raja Rajeshwari Nagar in Bengaluru – both by a handsome margin.

In a setback to Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, Shahnawaz Alam of Lalu Prasad’s Rashtriya Janata Dal won the Jokihat Assembly seat that had fallen vacant after resignation of Janata Dal (U) MLA Sarfaraz Alam on his joining the RJD. In Jharkhand, both the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM) candidates won, defeating the BJP, while the TMC won the Maheshtala seat in West Bengal, trouncing BJP’s Sujit Ghosh by over 60,000 votes.

Congress has found a new way of seeing defeat in victory. When we lost bypolls recently, Congress started talking about our losses even though they didn’t win. We snatched 14 states from you. Is that bigger or losing 9 bypolls?

— AMIT SHAH

One has to take two steps backward before a big leap

— RAJNATH SINGH

This loss proves that Nitish Kumar has deceived the people of Bihar and people have responded to it. People are avenging the U-turn taken by Nitish

— Tejashwi Yadav

This is a defeat for those who do not believe in democracy and play divisive politics. People have given a befitting reply to the BJP.

— Akhilesh Yadav

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