Three rounds of by-elections have been held since the stunning May 2014 verdict, and the outcome of each round has been full of political surprise. In July, the Congress swept the Uttarakhand by-polls, winning all the three seats on offer including two seats held previously by the BJP. In August, the BJP tasted defeat in six of Bihar’s ten seats that faced by-polls and lost some significant seats in Karnataka and Madhya Pradesh. And now in September, the BJP has lost big time in UP and Rajasthan, holding on to only three out of eleven seats in UP and one out of four seats in Rajasthan. And, horror of horror, the party has also had to concede three of the nine seats that went for by-polls in Gujarat. The only consolation for the BJP has come from West Bengal where it managed to reopen its account in the state Assembly after a lapse of fifteen years.
BJP propagandists are trying their best to devalue and depoliticise the by-poll results. We are told that Assembly by-polls are no referendum on the performance of the central government, that by-polls always tend to favour parties ruling in concerned states, that by-polls are decided by local factors, that the real test will be the next round of Assembly elections in Maharashtra and Haryana followed by Jharkhand and Jammu and Kashmir, and so on and so forth. There is also the general cautionary remark that it is too early to judge a new government and hence not much should be read into the by-poll reverses suffered by the BJP.
Admittedly, there are some contextual differences in by-polls and general elections to a state Assembly or to Parliament. But the fact is when by-elections take place on such a significant scale as in Bihar, UP and Gujarat, it is only fair to try and read the by-poll pointers politically, and when the results are reversed and the BJP vote share is found to have dropped by an average of ten percentage points not only in Bihar and UP but also in Rajasthan and Gujarat within weeks of the May 2014 verdict, only an ostrich will refuse to see the fact that the wave has certainly begun to recede. If by-polls as a rule go in favour of the incumbent state government, the BJP must answer why it lost as many as three out of four seats in Rajasthan where its government has not yet completed its first year in office.
Particularly significant are the UP by-poll results. The BJP and its ally Apna Dal held all the eleven seats in the state Assembly and their votes had only risen dramatically in the 2014 LS election when the BJP swept the state to win nine out of every ten seats in the state. But now the BJP has managed to retain only three seats – the predominantly urban seats of Noida and Delhi and the highly polarised seat of Saharanpur. The BSP customarily not contesting the by-polls has certainly helped the SP to an extent, but that certainly does not explain why the BJP’s vote share dropped so drastically. And most importantly, the defeats have come in the face of the BJP’s virulently communal high-pitch election campaign planned by Amit Shah and spearheaded by the likes of Yogi Adityanath.
We can therefore reasonably infer that while the mesmerising appeal of the much talked about Modi magic has begun to fade, the unfolding communal agenda of the Sangh brigade is also alienating the common people. Viewed in conjunction with the student unions results in Delhi where AISA successfully warded off the ABVP challenge in JNU and emerged as a powerful contender to the ABVP in Delhi University, the by-poll results will surely encourage the whole range of forces and movements that are fighting to save India from the corporate-communal offensive of the Modi regime.