Of power and prestige: What makes recently-held by-elections important

Congress will have to win all 28 or at least 21 seats in MP bypolls for a bargaining chance
Madhya Pradesh – 28 seats

Advantage BJP; Congress requires a clean sweep          

In March 2020, 22 sitting MLAs of the Kamal Nath-led Congress government defected to the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), leading to the fall of the 15-month-old government. Three other MLAs followed Jyotiraditya Scindia when he quit the Congress and the Assembly. Three vacancies arose after the death of sitting MLAs.

The defections might not have mattered (indeed, they might not have happened at all) had the Kamal Nath government not been so precariously placed. In the 2018 Assembly election, the Congress won 114 seats, two short of the majority in the 230-member House; the BJP won 109. But it was the Congress that 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.

However, this did not mean the BJP was automatically on safe ground: 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 Shivraj Singh Chouhan 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 to give itself a chance to bargain with the BSP, SP, and Independent MLAs.

The Madhya Pra­desh result will show the relative strengths and weaknesses of both Scindia and Nath. The Gwalior-Chambal area, where 16 of the 28 seats are located, is a stronghold of both Scindia and senior Congress leader Digvijaya Singh. Additio­nally, it will also test the mettle of Union Agri­culture Minister Narendra Singh Tomar, who belongs to the Gwalior-Morena region.

Most analysts believe there is no danger to the Chouhan government from the outcome of the election; in fact, it will only serve to strengthen him. But if Scindia brings home a sub-par result, or if Tomar is unable to deliver, their position may weaken.

Gujarat – 8 seats

Gauging voters’ mood before local body polls

The resignation of Congress MLAs ahead of the Rajya Sabha elections in June resulted in several vacancies. Soon after the BJP appointed a new party chief: C R Patil. While the outcome of the election will have no effect on the stability of the Vijay Rupani-led BJP government in power, Patil’s powers will be tested. The BJP has 103 seats in the 182-member Assembly, while the Congress has only 65 and is not anywhere within striking distance to unseat BJP.

In 2017, the Congress posted one of its best recent performances in Gujarat: It won 77 seats. This election, it aims punish defectors by winning all the eight seats. But, this is easier said than done. Of the eight, five candidates are the very people who had jumped ship. The BJP has fielded them as its candidates.The question is how the electorate will treat the defectors. And also, whether the BJP party structure, which until yesterday, was working against these five, will work as zealously now for them. 

The BJP is taking the by-elections very seriously. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s two-day trip to Gujarat just before the election was to visit the Statue of Unity for the birth anniversary of Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel (31 October). And it is no coincidence that this visit came days before the by-elections. Barely a few weeks back, Union Home Minister Amit Shah also visited the state, his first visit to Gujarat in six months.

The eight seats are Abdasa in Kutch, Morbi, Dhari in Amreli distict, Gadhada in Botad district, Karjan in Vadodara, the Dangs, Kaprada in Valsad district, and Limbdi in Surendranagar.

So far, Rupani has faced few challenges: This is a function of his laid-back style and his personal popularity among workers. Given that both Shah and Modi belong to Gujarat, keeping both in favour can be a hard act to follow. There is no threat to his leadership – yet. But his reputation will be dented if he fails to ensure 100 per cent victory in the by elections. Also, the mood of the voters will be revealed in this election ahead of local body polls across the state, which are likely in  February next year.

Uttar Pradesh – 7 seats

Yogi Adityanath has a reputation to defend

The challenge for the BJP is not just to win seven seats; it is to defend the reputation of Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath, who is criticised by his detractors both in the party and outside for a caste bias in favour of Thakurs.

Of the seven seats going to the polls, the BJP won six in the landslide election of 2017. In most of them, the party had been unable to win in over 10 years.

But the simple fact is this election is not about the candidates. It is about the state government’s policies, especially law and order. Losing the election will not affect the government, which has 312 of the 403 seats. But the loss will affect the CM’s reputation.

There has been a spate of caste crimes in the state -- the most recent being in Hathras where the daughter of a Valmiki (SC) family was raped and later died. She was cremated with indecent haste by the UP police, leading to debates that the BJP was not committed to justice to the Dalits. That Adityanath had given a free hand to the police resulting in a trigger happy force, which now has the confidence to shoot first and ask questions later is an argument repeated by Adityanath critics when gangster Vikas Dubey was killed in police custody and before that, a young executive employed by a multinational was shot dead at close range by police while in his car returning home late at night.

Unsurprisingly, the chief minister has asked party workers in the constituencies going to the polls to talk about his record of development and the victory represented by the building of the Ram Temple in Ayodhya. During an interaction with party workers in Bulandshahr, he talked about the Ganga Expre­ssway, while speaking with the workers of central and Eastern UP seats like Malhani, Ghatampur, and Deoria, he emphasised on the Purvanchal Expressway. Among the seats going to polls is Bangarmau, where the vacancy arose because BJP MLA Kuldeep Singh Sengar was convicted of rape and murder.

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