The focus has been on the Assembly elections in Bihar, but by-elections are also due in 56 other Assembly seats in 11 states this week. These elections are politically significant for both the ruling BJP as well as the Opposition parties, and are being seen by many as a test for public approval of the record of the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi in its second term.
Sixty-three seats are currently vacant in state Assemblies across the country. Fifty-four of these will be filled in by-elections scheduled for Tuesday (November 3); voting for two seats in Manipur will be held on November 7.
The Election Commission has decided not to hold “at this stage” Assembly bypolls in the remaining seven seats. These vacant seats are in Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Assam, and West Bengal, all of which are scheduled to get new Assemblies next year. The decision has been taken based on inputs received from the chief secretaries and election officials in these states, the poll panel has said in a release.
Also on November 7, elections will be held for the Valmiki Nagar Lok Sabha seat in Bihar, along with the third phase of polling for the Assembly elections in the state. The Lok Sabha election was necessitated by the death of sitting JD(U) MP Baidyanath Prasad Mahto in February. Counting for all seats will be taken up on November 10.
The biggest chunk of Assembly seats going to polls on Tuesday is in Madhya Pradesh — 28. Eight Assembly seats are up for grabs in Gujarat; seven in Uttar Pradesh; two each in Odisha, Nagaland, Karnataka, and Jharkhand; and one seat each in Chhattisgarh, Telangana, and Haryana.
In the ongoing Assembly elections in Bihar, the BJP has said that there is a certain fatigue, and that anti-incumbency against three-term Chief Minister Nitish Kumar could affect the NDA’s prospects. Indeed, the results of Bihar, as well as those of the by-elections, could be seen to an extent as a referendum on the policies of the central government, which has faced protests against the new farm laws, and come in for criticism for the deepening economic crisis and the loss of livelihoods in the coronavirus pandemic, as well as for its handling of the Chinese aggression on the Line of Actual Control in Ladakh.
MADHYA PRADESH (28 seats)
The by-elections in Madhya Pradesh were necessitated after 22 sitting MLAs of the erstwhile Congress government switched over to the BJP in March 2020, leading to the fall of Kamal Nath’s 15-month-old government.
Subsequently, three other Congress MLAs followed the lead of Jyotiraditya Scindia and his supporters, and joined the BJP. Another three seats in the Assembly are vacant due to the deaths of incumbent MLAs.
In the 2018 Assembly elections, the Congress won 114 seats, two short of the majority in the 230-member House; the BJP won 109. But Congress succeeded in forming the government with the support of four Independents, two BSP MLAs, and one SP MLA. After Scindia took away 22 MLAs and three others followed suit, the Congress’s strength was reduced to 88.
With 107 MLAs currently, the BJP needs to win at least nine of these seats to cross the halfway mark in the Assembly, and for Chouhan to continue to remain Chief Minister. The Congress, on the other hand, needs to win all 28 seats if it wants to return to power in the state — or at least 21 in order to give itself a chance to bargain with the BSP, SP and Independent MLAs.
At stake in Madhya Pradesh are the political ambitions of four senior national leaders — Kamal Nath of the Congress, and Jyotiraditya Scindia, Shivraj Singh Chouhan, and Narendra Singh Tomar of the BJP.
The Maharaj, who lost his traditional parliamentary seat Guna in the 2019 general election with a margin of more than 1 lakh votes, needs to prove to his new party that he has support in the Gwalior-Chambal region. These elections may in fact be the most crucial of Scindia’s political career.
If his loyalists manage to win and take the BJP comfortably over the line, his political stature will rise, and he will be in a strong bargaining position ahead of a ministerial reshuffle at the Centre. Conversely, if the Congress wins more seats than the BJP, it will be a personal humiliation for him, even if Chouhan’s government survives.
The Gwalior-Chambal area, where 16 of the 28 seats are located, is a stronghold of both Scindia and senior Congress leader Digvijaya Singh, both of whom are from erstwhile royal families of the region. The snubs from Kamal Nath and Digvijaya Singh are seen as one of the major reasons for Scindia’s decision to abandon the Congress for the BJP.
Shivraj Singh Chouhan
For the four-term Chief Minister who was sidelined by his party’s central leadership after the BJP lost the 2018 Assembly elections, these by-polls are an opportunity to prove his continued importance and relevance in the state.
Chouhan is leaving no stone unturned to win the bypolls — from kneeling and seeking forgiveness from farmers in Mandsaur to making announcements that will cost the financially stressed state nearly Rs 3,000 crore.
The 74-year-old veteran is looking for a comeback. Addressing a rally after losing power due to Scindia’s revolt, the former Union Minister asked emotionally: “Meri kya galti thi ki meri sarkar gira di gai? Kyon ki main achchha kaam kar raha tha?”
Later in that same rally, he vowed to returned to power, and has since taken full charge of the political affairs of his party, from the distribution of tickets to deploying booth-level in-charges.
Narendra Singh Tomar
The by-elections are also important for BJP leader Narendra Singh Tomar, who had played a key role in bringing the rebel Congress MLAs to his party. He too belongs to the same region as Scindia — Gwalior — and an impressive performance in the by-elections will enhance Tomar’s stature in the party, and could boost his chief ministerial ambitions.
The BJP has been fighting heartburn within after deciding to reward almost all the rebels supporting Scindia. Party workers have expressed displeasure over the sidelining of veteran leaders during the expansion of the Chouhan ministry. An emphatic victory will give the party more headroom and time to sort out the problems in its state unit.
GUJARAT (8 seats)
The by-elections have been necessitated by the resignations of Congress MLAs ahead of the Rajya Sabha elections in June. The new Gujarat BJP chief, C R Patil, has set himself an ambitious goal of winning all 182 seats in the Assembly elections of 2022. The by-elections are a major test for Patil.
The Congress, which had turned in its best performance in Gujarat since 1995 by winning 77 seats in 2017, would like to win back all its eight seats. The BJP has given five of the eight tickets to the Congress MLAs who resigned to ensure that the BJP retained all its seats in the RS elections.
While the BJP’s campaign has been largely around the national issues of the Ram temple at Ayodhya, abrogation of Article 370, and attacks against the “sinking ship” of the Congress, the Congress has focused on the MLAs who were “bought over” by the BJP. The economic distress brought by the pandemic and the lockdown have not got much attention from either party.
For the BJP, the by-election results do not have immediate direct relevance — unlike in Madhya Pradesh, the government does not have much to lose, and whatever it wins will be bonus. It has 103 seats in the Assembly, while the Congress has 65. The rest of the seats (barring those that are vacant) are with smaller parties and an Independent. However, its performance in these by-polls will crucially indicate the mood of voters, especially in the rural areas, ahead of local body polls across the state, which are likely to be held in February next year.
UTTAR PRADESH (7 seats)
A total 93 candidates are in the fray for the elections on November 3. The BJP won six of these seven seats in the landslide election of 2017, most of these wins being the first for the party at these seats in over a decade.
But the BJP’s task in these by-elections will be more difficult. Before starting his campaign meetings in Bihar, Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath met party workers at each of these seven seats.
It is evident that on all the seats, the Opposition is targeting the government on the issue of law and order — especially crime against women and the recent spate of alleged caste crimes in the state. Should the BJP not do well, it will be seen as a sign of growing discontent among Dalits over the way the party’s government in Uttar Pradesh has handled the cases of atrocities against members of the community, including the alleged gangrape and killing in Hathras.
Among the seats going to polls is Bangarmau, where the vacancy arose because the BJP MLA Kuldeep Singh Sengar was convicted of rape and murder.
At a virtual meeting, Chief Minister Adityanath asked party workers in the seven constituencies to not get demoralised by the Opposition’s attacks, and instead counter them with a list of the government’s development works.
The BJP has been trying to paint the recent incidents of crime that grabbed national headlines as a “conspiracy” hatched by the Opposition. The Chief Minister has warned that the government was trying to identify the conspirators, and that strict action would be taken against them.
The CM has also listed the development projects undertaken by the state and central governments. He has talked of the state government’s expressways projects: during an interaction with workers of Bulandshahr, he talked about the Ganga Expressway, while speaking with the workers of central and Eastern UP seats like Malhani, Ghatampur, and Deoria, he harped on the Purvanchal Expressway.
Interestingly, while Congress leaders starting from Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi Vadra have been attacking the Yogi government for crimes perpetrated on Dalits, the party has fielded Brahmin candidates at three of the five general seats going to polls. There is Arti Bajpai in Bangarmau, Mukund Bhaskar Mani Tripathi at Deoria, and Rakesh Mishra at Malhani.
BSP has gone back to a tactic it has used in the past, giving tickets to Muslim candidates at the two Western UP seats of Bulandshahr (Mohammed Yunus) and Naugawan Sadat (Furqan Ahmed).
At Naugawan Sadat, the SP has fielded Javed Abbas, who came second to the BJP’s Chetan Chauhan in 2017, while the BJP ticket has gone to Sangeeta Chauhan, the wife of the former India opener whose death from Covid-19 in August created the vacancy. The SP is, in fact banking largely on leaders with a past record of performance.
Out of the seven Assembly seats going to polls, the SP had won only one — Malhani — in 2017. The death of its MLA and veteran leader Parasnath Yadav in June has led to the by-election. The SP has given the ticket to the young Lucky Yadav, the son of Parasnath Yadav, who faces a challenge from the don-politician Independent candidate Dhananjay Singh. Singh, who had contested the 2017 election as a candidate of the Nishad Party, got over 21,000 votes and was runners-up to Parasnath Yadav of SP.
The BJP, whose campaign message has focussed on the alleged conspiracy by the Opposition to malign the government, and claims of development, has tried to give representation to OBCs, Brahmins, Thakurs, as well as the Dhangar (herding) community.
KARNATAKA (2 seats)
Bypolls are being held for the Sira seat in the Tumkur district and the Raja Rajeshwari Nagar seat in the city of Bengaluru. Both constituencies are located in southern Karnataka where the Congress and JDS are considered to be stronger than the ruling BJP.
The Sira seat fell vacant after the Janata Dal Secular candidate B Satyaranarayana, an advocate who won the 2018 polls, succumbed to a chronic illness on August 4.
The R R Nagar seat fell vacant in July 2019 after the Congress MLA Munirathna Naidu, a wealthy civil contractor and film producer, crossed over to the BJP to help the party come to power. The R R Nagar bypoll should have been held in December 2019 but was delayed on account of a case of electoral fraud filed against Munirathna Naidu by his BJP rival from the 2018 polls.
For the Sira seat, the BJP has fielded a new entrant to the party, Dr C M Rajesh Gowda, 47, a radiologist by profession and the son of a former Congress MP, as its candidate. Gowda initially tried to get a ticket from the Congress, but joined the BJP after he was rebuffed.
The Congress has fielded the veteran six-time MLA and former minister T B Jayachandra, 71, for the Sira seat. The JDS has fielded Ammajamma Satyanarayana, 61 the widow of the former JDS MLA B Satyanarayana.
At the R R Nagar seat, the BJP has fielded Munirathna Naidu, while the Congress has fielded H Kusuma, 31, a political novice who was the wife of the IAS officer D K Ravi who died in 2015. Kusuma is the daughter of JDS leader Hanumantharayappa.
The JDS has fielded a local leader, V Krishnamurthy, 41.
The bypolls will not have a serious bearing on party positions in the state since the BJP is in a clear majority. The polls are, however, a matter of prestige for Chief Minister B S Yediyurappa, who is facing the threat of being replaced in the light of allegations of corruption and interference in governance by members of his family.
The bypolls are also important for the new president of the Congress party in Karnataka, D K Shivakumar, who was arrested last year on charges of money laundering, and who is now being investigated by the CBI on charges of corruption.
ODISHA, JHARKHAND, NAGALAND, MANIPUR (2 seats each)
The Tirtol and Balasore Sadar seats are going to polls. The by-election in Balasore was necessitated by the death in June of the BJP MLA Madan Mohan Dutta, and the party has fielded his son Manas Kumar Dutta at the seat. The Tirtol by-election was brought on by the death of the BJD’s Bishnu Charan Das, a veteran Dalit leader, in July. The BJD has fielded Das’s son, Bijay Shankar Das, at the seat.
A total 28 candidates are in the race for the two seats in Jharkhand, Dumka and Bermo, which will see straight fights between the ruling JMM-Congress and opposition BJP. The by-election in Dumka was necessitated after Chief Minister Hemant Soren decided to retain the Barhait seat and give up Dumka. The Congress MLA from Bermo, Rajendra Prasad Singh, died in May.
By-elections are being held for the Southern Angami-I seat in Kohima district and the Pungro-Kiphire seat in Kiphire district. The by-elections were necessitated by the deaths of then Assembly Speaker Vikho-o Yhoshu and T Torechu of the Naga People’s Front respectively.
This is the only one of the 11 states going to by-elections, that will see voting on November 7. Two Assembly constituencies, Lilong and Wangjing Tentha, will go to polls along with the third phase in Bihar.
The Election Commission had initially declared five Assembly constituencies in the state as “clear vacant”, but announced the election schedule for only two, leaving out Wangoi, Saitu and Singhat. All together, 13 seats are lying vacant in the state Assembly.
TELANGANA (1 seat)
Thirty four candidates are in the fray for the by-election in Dubbaka Assembly constituency in Siddipet district. The seat fell vacant after the sudden demise of the sitting ruling Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) MLA Solipeta Ramalinga Reddy last August.
TRS has fielded Reddy’s wife Solipeta Sujata, while Congress has fielded Cheruku Srinivas Reddy. Srinivas Reddy defected from the TRS and joined Congress ahead of filing of nominations. He is the son of former minister Cheruku Muthyam Reddy.
The BJP has fielded M Raghunandan Rao, a lawyer and party spokesperson, who unsuccessfully contested in 2014 and 2018. The contest may be between TRS and BJP, although the Congress is campaigning strongly. However, the pro-TRS sentiment which prevails in the district gives an edge to the party over BJP or Congress.
HARYANA (1 seat)
Winning the November 3 bypoll for the Baroda Assembly segment in Sonipat district may not mean much numerically for the ruling BJP-JJP alliance in the 90-member Haryana’s Vidhan Sabha. However, losing the Jat-dominated seat that it has never won would certainly reflect badly on the ruling alliance, especially BJP.
For the Opposition Congress, retaining the constituency that has been its stronghold would certainly be a confidence-booster. Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar and various BJP leaders had been saying that it’s a “challenge for Congress” and an “opportunity for BJP”. 📣 Express Explained is now on Telegram
The bypoll has been necessitated by the death of Congress MLA Sri Krishan Hooda, who had won Baroda thrice in a row since 2009.
The BJP has 40 MLAs, and with the JJP’s 10, is comfortably placed in the 90-member House. The Congress has 30 MLAs, but has been hinting at an imminent upheaval in the ruling alliance.
Indeed, the BJP would want to use the JJP’s rural and Jat votebank to win Baroda, and if the alliance fails to secure a victory, it may worsen tensions within the alliance. The JJP’s Dushyant Chautala is facing resentment from within; at least two of his MLAs have been vocal in their opposition to him. The Independent MLAs that supported the BJP have also started showing signs of restlessness.
CHHATTISGARH (1 seat)
By-election is being held for the Marwahi seat, which fell vacant after the death of former Chief Minister Ajit Jogi in May. The seat is a Jogi family borough, having been won by Ajit Jogi in 2003, 2008 and 2018, and by his son Amit Jogi in 2013.
(With PTI inputs)
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