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Seven bye-elections in six states: Takeaways for BJP

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Results of the recent seven bye-elections are out. Held following the formation of I.N.D.I.A coalition it was keenly watched by the political analysts and countrymen alike. On the whole, the NDA and I.N.D.I.A constituents retained their tally of 3 and 4 respectively. But the composition of these numbers changed which have good measure of significance.

Of the six states involved, mandates coming from two largely populated states viz., Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal were watched keenly for their possible significance in 2024. The results of Ghosi of UP and Dhupgudi of West Bengal merit close attention. Along side, Dumri in Jharkhand sent a signal. The article discusses significance of these three constituencies in the context of 2024. However, before taking these three,  that some general observations can be made:

BJP must have realized that mere welfarist measures whether free house, or free cooking gas, or electricity connection or drinking water pipes, or free ration, or free Covid vaccine, or pension, or higher MSP, are not enough to win election. Neither good roads, nor new railway tracks, nor high speed trains nor sending Chandrayaan to moon suffice to clinch election. Similarly, great oratory, or mega rallies, or banners or massive doses of TV advertisement, are no guarantees to win elections.

The critical factor is the attitude to understand the voters’ mind and devising the right strategy on that basis. Whether or not BJP is world’s largest party is of little consequence to common people. These self-centricity and self-aggrandisement can rather cause revulsion to them. It is important to listen to the common voter and not indulge in pretending to be ‘omniscient’ and indulge in one-sided communication.

Having said the above, let us look at key shortcomings of BJP’s working style that reflected in its strategy in this round of bye-elections:

The first case is that of Ghosi in Uttar Pradesh:

Going by several social media reports, this bye election was needlessly caused. Two factors seemed to have led to it. First, the ministerial aspiration of the BJP candidate who had resigned from Samajwadi Party and defected to BJP to pursue his aspiration and BJP leadership agreeing to accommodate him because it saw an opportunity to spread its influence over a particular caste in the state by welcoming him in its fold. The party overlooked the issue of his competence.

The whole election centred on caste-politics. This was in serious breach of ‘good governance’ model of Yogi Adityanath. His very approach has been to retrieve the state from the evil grip of caste politics. While his tireless efforts have been bringing results and uniting people under the banner of good governance, such needless disturbances were bound to hurt BJP’s image. No surprise, people gave a decisive mandate against BJP. Its candidate was defeated comprehensively. Many BJP voters, frustrated by party’s style, seemed to have voted for NOTA.

Hopefully, Ghosi will open eyes of BJP top leadership and dissuade it from indulging in caste politics in 2024 LS polls. Though euphemistically labelled as Chanakya niti by sections of the party and media, this has become largely counterproductive since UP, under Yogi regime, has made considerable transition from that in favour of development politics.

In nutshell, it may make sense not to drive the state again in the abyss of caste politics in 2024 LS polls and leave the matter of candidate selection to state leadership. The party must realise that it cannot take any risk in UP which is expected to be its main pillar in 2024.

Second case is of Dumri constituency in Jharkhand:

The pattern of voting in Dumri has cast serious doubts about the merit of PASMANDA politics of the party. BJP-supported AJSU candidate had a good chance against JMM (I.N.D.I.A camp) but lost plausibly due to consolidation of Muslim votes in favour of the latter. In 2019, JMM’s victory margin was 34,288. In this bye election the AJSU candidate gave tough fight, narrowed the gap and lost by 17153 votes. That she could not make it may arguable be linked to minority Muslim votes swerving to the JMM candidate in a big way.

On her way to victory, the JMM candidate got crucial help from Muslim voters even ahead of the AIMIM candidate. Significantly, the vote for AIMIM shrunk by 20660 in this bye election compared to last assembly polls held in 2019. To many analysts, this was a display of tactical voting by minority which can potentially find replication in 2024.    

Empirically speaking since bulk of minority voters have been found to be more politically conscious making maximum use of voting rights tactically, the BJP is likely to face tough challenge in coming Lok Sabha polls unless it gets its core voters to come out in large numbers and cast their votes. This brings us to the case of another bye-election.

The third case is of Dhupgudi in West Bengal:

BJP had won this seat in 2019. It fell vacant due to untimely death of its MLA. In the normal course, it should have benefitted from sympathy factor and was expected to retain it. But it lost to ruling Trinamool. This defeat was more significant as it came despite the ruling party having been embroiled with numerous corruption charges.

Further, the presence of a common candidate of two other major contesting parties viz., Congress and CPM both of whom formed the I.N.D.I.A group along with the Trinamool was expected to work in favour of BJP. But it did not. Not only BJP lost but its vote share dipped from nearly 46 % in 2019 to  around 44.5 % in this bye election. What went wrong for BJP?

The state polls in 2021 had showed a gigantic rise in BJP’s vote share in West Bengal from nearly 10.16% in 2016 to 37.97%. Its voters were essentially from religious majority, and they expected BJP to give them relief from the ‘anti-democratic’, and  ‘minority appeasement’ policies of the ruling party. BJP’s promise of giving citizenship to large numbers of refugees under CAA had also contributed to its success.

However, despite a huge surge of votes in BJP’s favour, the centre’s failure to protect BJP’s voters from prolonged and severe post-poll violence unleashed by the ruling party in the state, its procrastination to implement CAA and its soft-handling of multiple corruption cases against the ruling party leaders seem to have been frustrating its voters in the state. Dhupgudi seems to reflect their accumulated concerns.

Conclusion:

A discussion of the bye election results therefore point out to the grave challenge  the BJP led NDA would face in 2024 unless they can motivate their voters enough to turn up and vote in view of strategic consolidation of minority votes against them. The disenchantment seen growing in West Bengal seems to be present in several other states as well in varying measures.

BJP’s core voters expectations on multiple issues such as Uniform Civil Code, Population Control, Abolition of Hindu Temple Control, Abolition of Places of Worship Act, Modification of Wakf Property Act and more such lie completely untouched even at the end of 9 years of NDA regime. In the circumstances  it remains to be seen how does the party handle the challenge of bringing its voters out of home to the polling booth!

Ghosi in UP, Dumri in Jharkhand and Dhupgudi in West Bengal have sent alarm signals to BJP. If it takes lessons from these mandates, it should show up in forthcoming state polls. That will possibly be the last chance before 2024 knocks at the door.

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