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Bypolls give down and out Opposition a reason to smile

The BJP was, however, quick to deny that the bypoll results were a reflection on the performace of the Modi government.

By Liz Mathew

Eight days before it celebrates its 100 days in power at the Centre, the BJP on Monday received its first electoral jolt since its spectacular victory in the Lok Sabha elections, suffering a 4-6 defeat in Bihar and losing two of its bastions in Karnataka and Madhya Pradesh to the Congress in the Assembly bypolls.

Of the 18 seats in four states for which bypolls were held on August 21, the Congress and its allies won 10, while the BJP won seven, and its ally Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) won one.

The coming together of old foes Nitish Kumar and Lalu Prasad in Bihar turned out to be a successful electoral formula. The bypoll results also proved that electoral trends can reverse in no time. The BJP — which is targeting a sweep from Jammu & Kashmir to Kerala, Gujarat to Nagaland — could face a difficult task ahead of the crucial state elections.

An upbeat Congress said the BJP’s “propaganda” that the Modi wave is intact has been proved wrong. But the party was cautious, refraining from declaring it as the beginning of its revival after its humiliating debacle in the Lok Sabha elections.

The BJP put up a brave face, saying waves are only found in the ocean, not in the river. But for the first time, BJP leaders admitted that the RJD-JD(U)-Congress combine in Bihar could prove to be a major challenge to its hopes of winning the state alone. They said that although top party leaders did not campaign aggressively for the bypolls, the performance could be a setback to BJP president Amit Shah.

However, they all denied that the verdict reflected Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s popularity. “The result are not as expected. The state BJP takes responsibility,” said senior BJP leader Shahnawaz Hussain.

In Punjab, the Congress and BJP ally Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) won one seat each. The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) , which won four of 13 Lok Sabha seats in the state earlier this year, suffered a humiliating defeat.

In Karnataka, the ruling Congress received a shot in the arm as it won two seats, including the prestigious Bellary (Rural) constituency. In Madhya Pradesh too, the BJP suffered a setback as the Congress wrested Bahoriband from it, but the ruling party won two others.

“This is certainly a lesson for the party that no victory, no matter how splendid it is, can be taken for granted. It will help the party leaders as well as the workers to pull up their sleeves and work hard for the state elections in Maharashtra, Haryana, Jharkhand and Jammu & Kashmir,” said a senior BJP leader.

With the Assembly elections set to be held soon, the Congress was cautious while cheering its victory. The pattern of voting, it said, was different in Lok Sabha and Assembly elections.

“The propaganda of the BJP after the Lok Sabha elections that a Modi wave is sweeping the country has been rejected by the people. We saw it earlier where the Congress won all the three Assembly seats in bypolls… And today, the BJP has suffered defeat in east, south, central and north India… The results are a little positive (news) for the anti-BJP parties,” said AICC general secretary Shakeel Ahmed.

He said they could have done better in Bihar if the alliance had been formed earlier. “It happened late and at the last and final stage. Had it happened earlier, there would have been more cohesion at the ground level. It is the cadres who work on the ground,” he said.

Sources in the Congress said the alliance could have performed well if they had sent a message of secular unity earlier. Party leaders pointed out that the alliance’s only two Muslim candidates in the fray lost. “That means polarisation took place and we could not counter it,” said a senior leader.

The Left termed the bypoll results as a setback to the RSS and the “corporate-driven” policies of the BJP government. “It shows a fast-growing disillusionment,” said CPI national secretary D Raja.

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