The By-Poll Verdict : The Implications

Let’s just get to the chase shall we?

No these polls were not a referendum on #ModiSarkar. No, they do not reflect his ‘waning’ popularity. No, they were not a result of his ‘poor’ governance in the past 100 days.

The results can be boiled down to several other factors. By-polls are largely fought on local issues by local leaders. There was no Narendra Modi or Rahul Gandhi campaigning. Even Mulayam and Akhilesh stuck to the Mainpuri Lok Sabha seat.

Devoid of Modi's campaign efforts, the BJP crumbled across the states
Take Rajasthan, for example. Seizing 3 of 4 seats from the saffron tally must have come as a shocker even for the most die-hard Congress worker, especially in light of the debilitating defeat the party was dealt out in the Lok Sabha and Assembly elections. Credit must be given to the dynamic Rajasthan Congress chief Sachin Pilot who has wrought the miracle through sheer hard work; having addressed 140 public meetings in the past 3 weeks. The fact that the Vasundhara Raje Government in Jaipur is drowning in a sea of impossible expectations after a mighty victory must have definitely helped.

By infusing young blood into the state unit, the Congress High Command has played a masterstroke. Perhaps it can learn from its experience and unveil the Scindia ace in Madhya Pradesh? After all, by-poll results from the central Indian state have been net-negative for the Grand Old Party.

Even Uttarakhand has proven why the party must invest in state satraps like Harish Rawat. Appointing the lightweight, ‘rootless wonder’ called Vijay Bahuguna was an unmitigated fiasco which came to haunt the party on the 16th of May. If you usher Rawat into the field, voters reward you with all 3 seats up for grabs in the by-poll.

Down south, its strongman in Karnataka, the Chief Minister Siddaramaiah may have crumbled under the Modi onslaught in the Lok Sabha elections but has held fort exceedingly well in the by-polls. The INC has won the (hitherto) impenetrable saffron fortress of Bellary. Even in the Yedyurappa stronghold of Shikaripura, the BJP could only scrape through with 6,000 votes.

Bihar was just a successful social experimentation by the anti-BJP bloc which is unsustainable in the long run. Lalu and Nitish cannot stay together for long if they wish to survive politically. Of course, until then, a NDA Government in Bihar is a pipedream.

That takes us to Uttar Pradesh where Mulayam played his cards wisely. The Samajwadis took measures to prevent polarization – which included barring the controversial Azam Khan from the campaign. Even the caste cards were dealt with adeptly and thus, despite the disastrous SP Government, the people of Uttar Pradesh votes the Samajwadis in.

Many also claimed that the withdrawal of Mayawati’s BSP would benefit the saffronites. Newspaper reports too suggested that BSP supporters were encouraged to vote for the candidate best-placed to defeat the SP (which in most cases, was the BJP candidate). So where has the Dalit vote has gone? The Congress has ostensibly not gained much. My guess is that it fragmented between the SP and the BJP, with a substantial percent staying at home or backing independents.

Most observers lampooned the BJP for the move to shift to Hindutva rhetoric from the development-centered campaign. Sure, irrational theories like Love Jihad may have contributed to the defeat but they were definitely, not the primary factors. It was more to do with the absence of a state-level leadership and election machinery.

Another plausible reason is that the polls were marked by over-confidence among the BJP workers/supporters and the disappearance of the RSS pradhans. The only example that can be given to illustrate the truth of this statement is its performance in Assam and West Bengal, where it hijacked a seat from the Congress and Left respectively. In both states, the party is relatively weak and so of course, over-confidence is not a possibility. Didi, of course has reason to frown in Writers Building. The saffron-ites have made deep inroads. The Left has crumbled. Poriborton might endure till 2016. Post-2016, she has to get down and dirty.

The BJP losing in Modi-Land would have been sacrilege a year ago. It has turned into reality this time. Even the half-hearted attempts by the Congress state leadership have succeeded in winning 3 of 9 seats. Anti-incumbency has perhaps set in. Anandibai is no Modi who managed to gloss over it through efficient booth management and canvassing.

It also conveys the message that the myth that people no longer consider Congress a party to vote for is only that- a myth. This does not signal a revival though – the High Command must sit up and take notice before things begin to work out. The SP still retains great influence in UP and its well-oiled election machinery should not be underestimated.

What it means for the BJP is that the Shiv Sena will get tougher and will haggle more ferociously on seat-sharing for the Maharshtra polls. And that they cannot dream of a break-up with the Sainiks anytime soon. Amit Shah has his work cut out.

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