Logos for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), left, and the Indian National Congress (INC) party are displayed on a computer at the Boom Live office in Mumbai | Bloomberg
Logos for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), left, and the Indian National Congress (INC) party are displayed on a computer at the Boom Live office in Mumbai | Bloomberg
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It’s not often that bypolls to fill vacant seats in Parliament or assemblies hold so much significance for so many political heavyweights, and can change political dynamics in several states. That’s the beauty of the 30 October bypolls to three parliamentary and 29 assembly seats across 11 states and a union territory, excluding Shamtorr-Chessore seat in opposition-free Nagaland, where the candidate was declared elected unopposed. You can almost feel the tension running from Brahmaputra valley to the western Himalayas and down to the south of Vindhyas.

Stakes for MVA in Maharashtra

In Maharashtra, only one constituency — Deglur in Nanded district — is going to the polls, but it’s keeping top politicians on their toes. The Congress has fielded Jitesh Antapurkar, son of Raosaheb Antapurkar, whose death necessitated the polls. Former Maharashtra chief minister Ashok Chavan has put aside his personal grouse to ensure the ghar-wapsi of former Nanded MP Bhaskar Patil Khatgaonkar, who joined the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in 2014 after falling out with Chavan.

Former Maharashtra CM Devendra Fadnavis also visited Nanded to persuade former Shiv Sena MLA Subas Sabane to join the BJP and contest the bypoll. Sabane had lost to a Congress candidate in 2019. This upset CM Uddhav Thackeray, who took a swipe at the BJP, saying the world’s largest political party had to ‘import’ candidates for a bypoll.

So, what is it in Deglur that has got top Maharashtra politicians so occupied?

Well, it’s a test of the electoral efficacy of the Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA), the three-party ruling coalition in Maharashtra comprising the Shiv Sena, the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), and the Congress. The BJP had sprung a surprise last May, defeating the MVA in the bypoll to Pandharpur assembly seat earlier held by the NCP. If the MVA loses Deglur, another seat held by it, it would expose the coalition’s fragility and cast doubts on the electoral formidability of the three-party alliance. There are already inherent contradictions in the alliance. If it proves to be electorally ineffective in the second consecutive assembly bypoll, it would have a serious bearing on the alliance, starting with the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) polls early next year.

By the way, the Shiv Sena and the Congress are already contesting against each other in the Dadra and Nagar Haveli parliamentary bypolls on Saturday.

Also Read: Uddhav’s BMC poll pitch on Dussehra: Forget Marathi vs non-Marathi, BJP ‘endangering Hindutva’

Haryana’s three-way battle

Haryana’s Ellenabad assembly bypoll is crucial to Indian National Lok Dal (INLD) chief Om Prakash Chautala in terms of his political relevance after his release from jail after 10 years. His son, Abhay Chautala, had resigned from the Ellenabad seat in protest against the Narendra Modi government farm laws and is seeking re-election. The father-son duo wants to retrieve their political turf, occupied by Dushyant Chautala’s Jannayak Janata Party (JJP). A defeat in Ellenabad would deliver a big blow to the INLD’s revival efforts. The BJP has fielded controversial MLA Gopal Kanda’s brother, Govind Kanda, three days after he joined the party and presented his credentials as a nationalist and gau-rakshak (cow-protector) to the BJP high command.

If Govind Kanda could pull it off for the BJP, it would give a big boost to the saffron party that has been on a sticky wicket in Haryana due to farmers’ anger over the farm laws.

Also Read: Lalu Prasad Yadav is back home in Patna after 3 years in jail, eyes set on Bihar bypolls

BJP and Congress legislators to be tested in Assam

In Assam, it’s the first test of chief minister Himanta Biswa Sarma and his new avatar as a fiery Hindutva proponent. Five assembly seats —  Tamulpur, Gossaigaon, Thowra, Bhabanipur and Mariani — will go to bypolls on Saturday. The first two fell vacant due to the death of their MLAs, while the last three vacancies arose due to the defection of two Congress and one All India United Democratic Front (AIUDF) legislators. The BJP has fielded all the defectors in the bypolls, leaving the other two seats to its allies. The BJP has 59 seats in the 126-member assembly and if it were to win all three, it would be just two short of the majority mark.

Besides, there will be another bypoll soon for the Majuli seat that was vacated by former CM Sarbanand Sonowal following his election to the Rajya Sabha. The BJP must be looking forward to ending its dependence on allies — Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) and United People’s Party Liberal (UPPL).

The Congress, which has severed ties with Badruddin Ajmal’s AIUDF, has fielded candidates for all five seats after the breakdown of talks with Akhil Gogoi’s Raijor Dal. The AIUDF, the Bodoland People’s Front (BPF), and the Communist Party of India (CPI) — three erstwhile members of the 10-party ‘Mahajot’ — have also fielded candidates. Other members of the erstwhile Mahajot are split in their loyalty. The CPI(M) is supporting the Congress on four seats and the CPI on one seat. The Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) is supporting the Congress, the AIUDF and the CPI in different seats. After the party’s defeat in Assam earlier this year, many Congress leaders questioned the party’s decision to ally with Ajmal’s AIUDF.

These assembly bypolls would show if the Congress is better off alone.

Also Read: Why Karnataka bypolls are ‘insignificant’, but for Congress, BJP & JD(S) a prestige battle

Karnataka is all about Yediyurappa

In Karnataka, bypolls to Sindagi and Hangal assembly seats are the first electoral test of chief minister Basavaraj Bommai who replaced B.S. Yediyurappa in July. The latter has little to gain though. If the BJP wins the two seats that have a significant Lingayat presence, the credit will go to Bommai for steering the party successfully into the post-Yediyurappa era.

If the BJP loses, especially in Hangal, then the CM may be embarrassed but it would be a bigger blow to Yediyurappa. The former CM had forced the party to make his son, B.Y. Vijayendra, one of the in-charges of Hangal. Yediyurappa must prove his hold over Lingayat voters to stay relevant.

BJP’s test in Telangana

The outcome of the Huzurabad assembly bypoll in Telangana would be another indicator of the BJP’s strength in the southern state. It delivered a shocker to the ruling Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS), wresting Dubbaka seat in a bypoll last November.

In December 2020, in the Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation polls, the BJP put up a brilliant show, winning 48 of 150 wards, up from four in 2016.

Huzurabad bypoll will show whether and how much the saffron party has cemented its position as the TRS’ principal rival. It’s also a grudge match for chief minister K. Chandrasekar Rao as his former party colleague, Eetala Rajender, is the BJP candidate.

Also Read: Why 4 Madhya Pradesh bypolls are another litmus test for Shivraj Chouhan

Futures on the line in Himachal, Madhya Pradesh and Bihar

In Himachal Pradesh, bypolls to the Mandi parliamentary seat and three assembly seats — Arki, Jubbal-Kotkhai, and Fatehpur — are crucial to CM Jairam Thakur. He must shudder to think how the high command may react if these bypolls show anti-incumbency building up against the BJP a year before the assembly election. The party replaced the entire Gujarat Cabinet last month to beat anti-incumbency. In Mandi, Pratibha Singh is fighting a battle to retain her husband and ex-CM Virbhadra Singh’s political legacy, especially inside the Congress.

Jairam Thakur’s counterpart in Madhya Pradesh, Shivraj Singh Chouhan, may also be feeling the pressure ahead of bypolls to one Lok Sabha and three assembly seats. With many of his colleagues eyeing his chair and the BJP high command eager to promote a new crop of leaders, Chouhan can’t afford to drop the ball.

Bypolls to two assembly seats in Bihar are important for the Nitish Kumar government’s stability. The death of two Janata Dal (United) MLAs has reduced the NDA’s tally to 126 in the 243-member assembly, just four more than the majority mark. That gives smaller allies Jitan Ram Majhi of Hindustani Awam Morcha (HAM) and Mukesh Sahni of Vikassheel Insaan Part (VIP) — with four MLAs each — undue leverage. Either of these two bolting out would bring the government on the precipice.

Erstwhile allies, the RJD and the Congress, are contesting separately. RJD leaders maintain the Congress dragged it down in the last assembly election by contesting 70 seats in alliance and winning just 19. The outcome of these bypolls would have a bearing on their equations in the future.

The author tweets @dksingh73. Views are personal.

(Edited by Srinjoy Dey)

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