The outcome in the ongoing bypolls across several states is likely to present a clear picture of what party the electorate will be leaning towards in the upcoming elections.
Srinagar is in the thick of things with bypolls being conducted for its Lok Sabha constituency. Nine candidates are fighting it out for the seat which was vacated by PDP leader Tariq Hamid Karra in protest against alleged police excesses in the state. Most of the polling stations in the constituency have been classified as hypersensitive or sensitive. Separatists, as expected, called for a boycott of the election. It is a straight contest between between former chief minister Farooq Abdullah of the National Conference and Nazir Ahmad Khan of the People’s Democratic Party.
Srinagar, in south Kashmir, is a stronghold for Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti’s PDP. Despite the boycott call from separatist Hurriyat leaders and militant groups, the voter turnout in the elections isn’t expected to be significant. Furthermore, the unrest few months ago that saw the longest-running curfew in Srinagar had in many ways disillusioned the public from participating in the elections. The police crackdown on mobs in Srinagar and neighbouring areas, after militant leader Burhan Wani was killed last July, led to a lot of collateral damage. Pellet gun injuries had left hundreds injured, blinded or disfigured and it drove the public against the PDP, which is in alliance with the BJP.
Adding to the mix, loss of visibility of PDP leadership including Mehbooba’s uncle and PDP no.2 Sartaj Madani and other elected leaders in the region adds to the party’s woes. Though the Congress enjoys support and appreciation for the work done by MLA Mohammad Amin Bhat in Anantnag, and outside chances of heavy voting in Shangus and Dooru may put it in a favourable position, it will at best be a wild card, at best.
Farooq Abdullah, three-time chief minister of J&K and former Union Minister in UPA-II government, enjoys strong grassroot support and loyal following in central Kashmir. Ethnic and sectarian minorities back Abdullah and support from them could support his return to the heart of the state’s politics. Abdullah had rarely adopted an aggressive stance against militants and separatists. He has, on most occasions, supported the mob movements and even on occasions separatists. He has stood by protesters and separatists in recent months against the PDP-BJP government for their alleged highhandedness in the state. It seems most likely that PDP is on its way to suffering a shock defeat in its stronghold. The boycott, if at all on a large scale, will help the PDP’s cause as this seems to be a vote for change driven by discontent.
In Delhi’s Rajouri Garden, the bypolls are being held just ahead of the crucial municipal elections later this month in the state. This will be seen as a litmus test for the Aam Aadmi Party, which had come to power with a massive mandate in the Assembly elections with 67 seats out of 70, and the Bharatiya Janata Party that is in power in all three MCDs.
In Karnataka, voters are electing their representatives for Nanjangud and Gundlupet Assembly segments. The state is due to go for polls next year and this election could be an acid test for Siddaramaiah who finds himself in a precarious situation. Karnataka is the largest Congress-ruled state and the party can’t afford to lose it in 2018. The tide seems to be shifting against it and the bypolls will show just how much work the party needs to do to retain power next year. Senior Congress leader and former Chief Minister of Karnataka S.M. Krishna recently defected to the BJP is also expected to play a strong role in wooing the electorate.
Tamil Nadu is also at the centre of controversy with the by-election for the prestigious RK Nagar assembly constituency likely to be derailed by Income Tax department’s latest report claiming that the VK Sasikala-led faction of the AIADMK distributed at least ₹89 crore in the constituency at the cost of ₹4,000 per vote. The Election Commission, though powerless to ban a party from contesting an election, can and may postpone the April 12 election amid the controversy. However, the two factions of the AIADMK and Jayalalithaa’s niece Deepa Jayakumar are all set to stake claim to the Amma legacy.