With bypoll results, alarm bells ring for BJP

With bypoll results, alarm bells ring for BJP in hill states

Himachal results could reflect on its neighbouring hill state of Uttarakhand, both of which are BJP-ruled and go to the polls in 2022

It is specious to gauge the political mood of a country as diverse and large as India from the results of the bypolls of 29 Assembly and three Lok Sabha seats. The results, however, are not good news for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)'s state governments in Himachal Pradesh and Haryana – both of which have witnessed farmers' agitations in the recent past.

The results are also significant for the BJP's high command culture under Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Union Home Minister Amit Shah and party chief JP Nadda. Their handpicked leaders - Karnataka Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai, Himachal CM Jai Ram Thakur and the party's West Bengal leader, the leader of opposition in the state legislature, Suvendu Adhikari - had a poor outing.

The farmers' movement against the three central laws in Haryana is better known nationally, where the BJP lost the Ellenabad Assembly bypoll to the Indian National Lok Dal (INLD). The INLD is the parent party of the BJP's coalition partner in the state government, the Dushyant Chautala-led Jannayak Janata Party (JJP). INLD's Abhay Singh Chautala, Dushyant Chautala's uncle, termed his win a victory of the farmers. The JJP had backed the BJP candidate.

Not just the farmers of Haryana, Punjab and Western Uttar Pradesh, but the farmers of Himachal Pradesh have also held protests in the hill state in the past few months. They protested the crash in the prices of apples and blamed it on the policies of the BJP government in Shimla, which has refused to address the cartelization of apple procurement by big players.

Also Read | Congress upbeat about bypoll results, says it still has in it to take on BJP 

The farm protests cast a shadow on the BJP's performance in Rajasthan. Its former ally, Hanuman Beniwal-led Rashtriya Loktantrik Party's candidate, emerged the runner-up to the Congress on one of the two Assembly bypolls in the state, relegating the BJP to the number three spot in the Vallabhnagar seat. Beniwal had quit the BJP-led NDA in the wake of the farm protests last year.

In Karnataka, the BJP high command's favoured leader to replace veteran BS Yediyurappa for the post of the state chief minister, Bommai, had a rude reality check. The BJP lost to the Congress in Hangal, a seat in Bommai's home district. 

In Himachal Pradesh, the BJP lost to the Congress in all three Assembly seats that went to the polls and the Mandi Lok Sabha seat. The BJP had won the Mandi seat by over four lakh votes in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls. The loss puts a question mark on the leadership of CM Jai Ram Thakur in the run-up to next year's Assembly polls. The party high command had picked him as the CM after the 2017 polls. The BJP leadership has replaced chief ministers twice in the neighbouring Uttarakhand since the last Assembly polls. 

In West Bengal, the BJP, led by Suvendu Adhikari, not only performed abysmally, but two of the four seats saw the Communist Party of India (Marxist) competing with the BJP for the number two spot.

Also Results | Bypoll results: BJP scores big wins in North East 

With the Congress comfortably winning both the Rajasthan seats, it was evident that the BJP high command's preferred leaders are little match for former chief minister Vasundhara Raje, who has not had the best of terms with the leadership in Delhi. The BJP performed exceptionally in Assam, where Himanta Biswa Sarma had wrested the leadership job from Sarbananda Sonowoal, the high command favourite.

Limits of Hindutva

The alarm bells should ring for the BJP in the hill states, both of which go to the polls in 2022, Uttarakhand by February-March and Himachal Pradesh by November. Neither of the two has any significant Muslim population. With the BJP's Hindutva narrative not working, the electorate focused on other issues, particularly inflation and crash in apple prices. In the three Assembly seats of HP, the Congress won with healthy margins, securing 51 per cent votes in Arki, 53 per cent in Jubbal-Kothai and 42.82 per cent in Fatehpur to the BJP's 32.68 per cent.

The results in Bihar should worry the Congress, where it severed its alliance with the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) for the bypolls, as it is for the Janata Dal (United) since the Chirag Paswan-led Lok Janshakti Party (LJP) faction remains an irritant. In Bihar's Kusheshwar Asthan, the Congress secured 4.28 per cent votes and LJP 4.29 per cent votes. In Tarapur, which the RJD won in a close contest by securing 45.63 per cent votes to the JD(U) 's 45.15 per cent, the Congress could get only 2.11 per cent and LJP 3.43 per cent.

Also Read | Farmers threaten to step up protests by November end 

In West Bengal, the surprise, if any, was the massive Trinamool Congress wins. It secured 84 per cent votes in Dinhata, 87 per cent in Gosaba, 73 per cent in Khardaha and 55 per cent in Santipur. The only surprise was a marginal revival of the CP((M). In Khardaha, the CPIM bagged 10.39 per cent to the BJP's 13 per cent, while it secured 19.57 per cent votes to the BJP's 23.22 per cent. This would be welcome news for the Trinamool Congress as it benefits the most in a triangular fight in the 2024 Lok Sabha polls.

The BJP, however, might argue its win in Telangana's Huzurabad against the ruling Telangana Rashtra Samiti is more significant than its losses elsewhere. After winning Karnataka, the BJP has ambitions of winning Telangana to make further inroads into southern India.

Interestingly, contests across the 29 Assembly and three Lok Sabha seats were either one-sided or bipolar, with any "third force" performing poorly. For example, the Janata Dal (Secular) was wiped out in Karnataka's Hangal, securing a measly 0.54 per cent votes. The JD (S) managed 2.66 per cent of votes in Sindgi, which the BJP won, and the Congress was second. The JD(S) had won the Sindgi seat in the last Assembly polls.

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