Usually the bi-elections, be it Lok Sabha or assembly, do not evince much interest as it is believed that the outcome mostly would be to the favour of the ruling party- at the Centre or the state- as the case might be. But not the bi-polls to the three Lok Sabha and 30 assembly segments spread across the country with an interesting outcome.
Most of the political or poll theories are propounded for normal times but the current phase is both interesting and abnormal. Abnormal because the present ruling dispensation headed by a new look BJP is working on an entirely new political plane which hitherto was unknown in the annals of the saffron party and, of course, alien to the opposition parties.
The results of the bi-polls this time around generated interest, coming ahead of the next round of assembly elections including politically significant Uttar Pradesh early 2022 and in the run up to the 2024 Lok Sabha polls. Nevertheless, it was presumed that barring a few regional players, the BJP and its allies will romp home comfortably.
The theory of surprises starts with the BJP-ruled Himachal Pradesh where no one had imagined a whitewash for the double-engine government. The Congress entering the fray for the first time in the absence of former chief minister, Virbhadra Singh swept through a Lok Sabha and three assembly seats. No mean achievement given the fact that the Himachal is the home state of the BJP president, J P Nadda and Information and Broadcasting Minister, Anurag Thakur, the son of former CM and party strongman Prof Prem Kumar Dhumal.
The fact that the fledgling Congress won an assembly seat in Karnataka’s BJP chief minister, Basavraj Bommai’s home district, Haveri, apart from retaining its hold in Rajasthan, with bagging two seats, a solitary one in Maharashtra and winning Rajgoan seat in Madhya Pradesh after a gap of 31 years apart from losing two of its strongholds to the BJP, has lent an interesting touch to the story. And adding spicy to it is the clean sweep by the ruling Trinamool Congress in West Bengal.
Notwithstanding the impressive performance put up by ruling BJP in Assam where it won all the five seats in alliance, the other North-Eastern states though a clean sweep for the NDA combine tells a different story. Most of the seats in this part of the country have been won by the regional parties and none by BJP directly.
Given the fact that three north Indian states- Punjab, Uttrakhand and Uttar Pradesh- will be facing assembly elections next year, the Himachal story further makes it interesting. If chief minister, Mr Jai Ram Thakur’s admission that failure to control inflation caused the BJP’s rout in the state, is to be believed then his party could be further tough time in the next round of elections.
Inflation coupled with the months old farmers’ agitation with its centre in north India should give BJP some reason to worry. At the same time Congress’ peace-meal victories with regional players such as Ms Mamta Banerjee pitching in at some places should provide enough reason to the opposition to mull over that how important was unity in their ranks. The bi-election results have opened a window of an opportunity for the opposition to re-calibrate their approach towards joining hands to face the might of Narendra Modi.
From the opposition perspective the election results have given a clear message and direction that the parties must recognise each other’s strength and weaknesses and avoiding sniping or poaching into one another’s territory. More importantly, it should force the Congress leadership to rethink on its lackadaisical and laid back approach and settle the leadership issue to be in position to be accepted by the regional parties as fulcrum of opposition unity with its pan-India presence. The victories in Himachal and elsewhere should be used by the Congress strategists to talk to the ilks of Ms Banerjee and other regional leaders from a position of strength.
Given the fact that Uttar Pradesh, with 80 Lok Sabha seats, assembly election will be significant in the run up to the 2024 general elections, the Congress and opposition parties such as Samajwadi Party and Rashtriya Lok Dal should discover some common ground to check Modi juggernaut. Again the basis for discovering a common ground should be strength and weaknesses of the partnering outfits.
The BJP too cannot take it lightly as the bi-election results should be an eye-opener for the party. The realisation must dawn on the party big-wigs that faced with the ignominy of rising prices and a prolonged farmers’ stir, the big time policy decisions and the resultant headlines grabbing were no alternative to resolving the bread and butter issues. The people in many parts of the country might still be under the Modi-spell sharpened by hyper nationalism and religious polarisation, but the ruling party should not lose sight of the fact that after a stage delivering on promises and making life easier for people is the ultimate.
There should be a rethink by the ruling dispensation on its approach which has a strong element of arrogance flowing from the party’s successive and impressive election victories during the last seven years. The arrogance was also reflected from the manner in which the new system of poaching into opposition parties has been adopted.
Sit up and think is the message from these bi-election results, and in equal measure for both the ruling BJP and the Congress-led opposition parties and more so for the latter. The other strong message is that invincibility factor exists in democracy for a limited time and not for all time to come and that successive electoral victories should not be misconstrued as a blank cheque for the ruling party to perform without any accountability to the people.
A clear reflection from the polls results is that there is a chance for the BJP to mend the ways and there is a bigger chance for the Congress and other opposition parties to set their respective parties in order. The stakes clearly are much higher for the latter.
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