By Saurabh Gandhi
Edited by Nandita Singh, Senior Editor, The Indian Economist
After the 2014 Lok Sabha elections were done and dusted, one would have thought that the political landscape would be peaceful, considering the decisive mandate that Narendra Modi received. However, this line of thought has turned out to be far from the truth. Even if we keep aside the day-to-day political chaos, there has been a lot of activity on the electoral front too. A considerable number of seats (both at the state and the national level) have undergone re-elections in the form of by-polls. A by-poll is necessitated when the sitting MP or MLA resigns or dies. What happened in the summer of 2014 is that all the parties wanted to make sure that they put up the winning candidate for the Lok Sabha constituencies. This led to many parties to ask their sitting MLA’s to contest for the MP seats, and once they won, they had to vacate one of the two, thereby creating a scenario where an election had to be held in the vacated seat.
Let’s come to the results of the 21 by-polls that have taken place after the 2014 Lok Sabha elections. The first by-polls took place in the state of Uttarakhand, the state ruled by the INC, where 3 Assembly seats went to voting. The INC won all three of them. Then came the by-polls in the states of Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Karnataka, and Punjab. In Bihar, 10 Assembly seats went to polls, out of which the RJD got 3, JDU 2, INC 1 and the BJP got 4. In Madhya Pradesh, the BJP got 2 and the INC got 1 out of t he three that held the by-election. Punjab had elections in 2 seats, which went equally to the INC and the SAD. The INC also dominated the Karnataka by-polls of 3 seats by winning 2, while the BJP managed to scrape the remaining one. Now, let’s analyze what these results mean politically, both in general, and for the states and the parties in particular.
If we look at the Uttarakhand by-poll results, they were the first blow to the BJP, since in the Lok Sabha elections, the party had won all the seats from the state, even though the state government is headed by INC. The euphoria around Modi had not even subdued when these polls were held and hence, the results came as a shock to the BJP. However, a deeper look reveals that with these 3 seats, the INC government is a stable one at the state level and if the BJP had managed to win them, the state government would have been in danger. People of Uttarakhand did not want any uncertainty and thought it best to continue with the government headed by the INC. Rivalry between various local leaders of the BJP is also said to be a reason behind their loss.
Coming to Bihar, if the Lok Sabha election results were any indication, then the BJP should have swept the 10 seats that went to the polls, bagging at least 8 of them. However, two things worked against them. Firstly, the rivals Nitish Kumar and Lalu Prasad Yadav had formed a grand alliance with the INC to take on the BJP. Secondly, this time they did not have Modi to campaign for them. The local leadership of the BJP in Bihar failed to work as a cohesive unit. However, in spite of the media declaring that the grand alliance turned out to be a success, it cannot be ignored that the BJP held its ground in 4 seats and emerged as the single largest party. If they get their act together, they could still come back in the state. All is not lost as the alliance is yet to be tested with regard to transfer of votes to each other and the crucial factor as to who will be the supreme leader, Lalu or Nitish. If these results are anything to go by, it is Lalu who has emerged as the clear winner as a result of this alliance.
The results in Madhya Pradesh are not surprising with the BJP continuing its winning streak. However, CM Shivraj Singh Chauhan might not be too happy as the INC wrested one seat from the BJP. Not much can be read from the Punjab results either, as the INC regained its stronghold in Patiala, but lost the other seat to the INC. However, the interesting point to note here is that in the Lok Sabha elections, the people of Patiala had reposed their faith in the AAP. Turns out they no longer see the AAP as a formidable force after its defeat all over the country. Karnataka, just like Uttarakhand, surprised many. The BJP had got majority of the Lok Sabha seats from the state in the general elections. Thus, when the INC retained one assembly seat, wrested another in a BJP bastion and gave a tough fight to the BJP in the third, everyone was in a shock. It turns out INC leader and state CM Siddharamaiah had worked really hard to win these so as to retain his leadership both within the party and in the state. He will be one happy man.
If we look at these elections in a larger context, a few conclusions can be arrived at. Firstly, and this cannot be stressed enough, people vote differently in the Lok Sabha elections and the State elections, and they do not want to rock the boat for the ruling state government. Bihar, Karnataka, Uttarakhand and Madhya Pradesh are prime examples. The people voted for the party ruling the state and not the opposition. Secondly, the BJP can no longer ride on the Modi wave. People voted for the party in May as they wanted to see him as the PM. Now that he is the PM, the BJP needs to give more convincing reasons to the voters to encourage them to vote for the party. Building consistent and credible leadership in the state can help. Thirdly, the INC is not down and out. Yes, they may have lost the Lok Sabha elections miserably, but with a focus on giving more autonomy to state leaders and stitching formidable alliances, the party can at least hold on to its ground and maybe gain some more later on.
These results are too small to answer questions like, “Is the Modi wave over?” If some opinion polls are to be believed, Modi’s popularity hasn’t gone down a bit. In fact, what can be said is this: had Modi campaigned in these states, especially Bihar, the results would have been better for the BJP. However, this reveals a bigger fault line in the BJP. The BJP still needs Modi to do well. The same cannot be said for the leaders of the INC, where lesser intervention from the Gandhis and more power to popular state leaders can help them gain lost ground.
A commerce graduate from St. Xavier’s College, Kolkata, Gandhi is a politics enthusiast. He has been an intern at Youth-Ki-Awaaz and has a keen interest in current affairs. Innovation in India’s education system and gender equality are issues which are very close to his heart. When not following news, he is either reading or crossing movies off his “To see list”. A self confessed social media addict, Gandhi can be reached on Twitter @saurabhgandhi92. Call him mad and he will love you for the rest of your life.