The BJP’s emphatic success in the Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh by-elections did not get the required attention due to the Bihar cliffhanger in which the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) managed to retain power in the face of severe odds. The BJP’s emergence as the big brother in the alliance also hogged the headlines.
Victories in MP and UP were of crucial importance. Failure to obtain a majority of the combined 35 (28+7) seats where by-elections were held would have been tom-tommed by the Lutyens media and spoilt the BJP’s Bihar celebration. The polls in MP were a virtual mini assembly election in which the prestige of both chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan and Jyotiraditya Scindia were at stake. Scindia’s defection along with 22 Congress legislators barely a few days before the national lockdown in March helped topple the effete 15-month old Kamal Nath regime, paving the way for Chouhan’s return to power.
The prospect of a BJP government remote controlled by defectors from the Congress, however, is not something which Chouhan could have relished. Having ruled the state for two terms with brute majorities, circumstances now had him at the mercy of the very man against whom he had campaigned on the plank of Maharaj versus Shivraj. Power had eluded the BJP by just seven seats in the 2018 assembly polls. Wins in 19 of the 28 seats where by-elections were held helped boost the party’s tally to 126 in a House of 229.
Voters on the whole rejected the Congress case that a bunch of bikau (saleable) MLAs who had ditched the party and helped pull down the Kamal Nath ministry had no right to be re-elected. They plumbed instead for the BJP view that a tikau (stable) government would better serve their interests in the long run. Seen in retrospect Scindia’s rebellion was seen for the good since the graft ridden Congress regime could not have lasted much longer given the paucity in numbers and a chief minister who remained closeted in his ivory tower. That his crafty party colleague and erstwhile CM, Digvijay Singh, was running the show from behind was no secret.
A closer look at the results, however, reveals a reality that is slightly different from what was expected. Of the 22 MLAs who had defected 19 were hardcore loyalists of the maharaja. Six lost. Chouhan, on his part, managed to get six of the nine candidates owing fealty to him elected. What it means is that the BJP now has 113 MLAs (107+6) of its own. Since it already has the backing of an Independent, and the lone legislator of the Bahujan Samaj Party, it stands one above the half-way mark.
Put bluntly, Scindia cannot call the shots anymore. The Chouhan regime will survive even if his loyalist MLAs return to the Congress, not an impossibility given their roots. Admittedly, such a scenario is not expected to play out — barring unforeseen circumstances. Life in the BJP will be a lot easier for them unless they openly break party discipline. Scindia’s three chieftains, Tulsi Silawat, Govind Singh Rajput, and Mahendra Singh Sisodia, retained their seats by mammoth margins ranging from 25,000 to 50,000 votes thanks to the hard work put in by the BJP cadre and the party’s regional satraps.
More worrying for Scindia is that the results reconfirmed his slipping hold over the Gwalior-Chambal belt. Seven of the 13 defecting MLAs from the region kissed the dust. Ideally, he was expected to have delivered 10 or 11 if not all 13 seats from the region. The losses cannot but arouse concern, especially after he lost his own seat of Guna in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls.
Uttar Pradesh: Retention of six of the seven assembly seats in the state may have been along predictable lines. Three of the six in western UP (Tundla, Amroha, and Bulandshahr) posed a challenge for the Yogi regime given their proximity to Hathras where a Dalit girl of the Valmiki community was alleged to have been raped and murdered by upper caste men on September 14. All three seats have a sizeable Dalit population. The Opposition led by the Congress had built their entire campaign around the alleged humiliation of Dalits under Yogi raj in the hope of denting the BJP’s SC vote bank. This was not reflected in the results. Not only did the ruling party win the seats by margins ranging from 15,000-21,000 votes, the official party of Dalits, the BSP, ran third at Tundla, and the Azad Samaj Party, the Bhim Army’s political wing, polled a paltry 10,000 plus votes at Bulandshahr.
The results of the polls in the western UP seats gave the lie to the entire narrative behind the Hathras incident. To prevent the Congress and other parties from making political capital out of it, the CM had voluntarily handed over the probe to the CBI. Nothing has been heard from the country’s top investigating agency since – precisely because the truth lies somewhere else.
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