Bypolls in two Lok Sabha seats in Maharashtra, both of which were with the BJP, are emerging as one of the most keenly watched political contests in the state.
Pitted against the BJP in the Bhandara-Gondia and Palghar bypolls on Monday are the Congress and the NCP, who have buried their differences, and the Shiv Sena, which has resolved to cut ties with ally BJP and contest 2019 elections independently.
ThePrint asks: Like Uttar Pradesh, will Maharashtra bypolls test anti-BJP forces ahead of 2019?
Palghar bypoll is a testing ground for the Shiv Sena
The bypolls are a test for both the major alliances in Maharashtra. There are no major elections after this till the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, so there is more focus on these bypolls.
Usually, bypolls don’t really reflect the political picture in a state because they are localised and revolve around specific ground issues. National policy, state policy or principles of alignment don’t usually reflect in the way bypolls are fought. But this time, the Palghar bypoll is a trial for the Shiv Sena. The party, which has declared its intent to contest 2019 Lok Sabha and state polls independently, wants to test the ground and see what response it gets by fighting solo against the BJP. At the same time, it is giving a signal to its ally to not take the Shiv Sena for granted.
Their alliance is like a live-in relationship after divorce and the Shiv Sena is trying to create pressure as well as play the public mood. People are getting dissatisfied with the BJP, but as on today, are not disillusioned with the party. But, soon we will reach that stage too.
The bypoll will be a test for the Congress and Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) as well to see how they can work out an alliance after a bitter split ahead of the 2019 election. Although, it is not a question of survival for the Congress and the NCP, it is an issue of not having power. We lost power after 15 years, and one cannot get as much work done while being in the opposition. Some people have education institutions, some run cooperative banks, and if any problems arise they can be addressed more swiftly while being in the government.
Bypolls can never reflect the national mood
There are always elections taking place in some part of the country at any given time of the year, and while media and social media would like to draw a conclusion from every result, it’s important to differentiate between a scheduled election and a bypoll.
During a scheduled election, the party fights on a manifesto and projects what the government will do. A bypoll can be called for multiple reasons, with the two most common ones being the death of a sitting legislator or voluntary resignation. For bypolls, the most pertinent issues revolve around the local candidate and the constituency. The number of voters in a bypoll is significantly less compared to a scheduled election.
This is why, unlike a scheduled election which may be reflective of the mood of a state, a bypoll by its very nature is isolated from the rest of the state/country, and can never be reflective of the national mood.
The current scenario has ensured that the most unlikely people and parties become bedfellows in an attempt to defeat the BJP and Narendra Modi. And, while it may be easy to control contradictions between parties (like the BSP and SP) for a local bypoll, for national or state elections, it may not be easy for contradicting parties to come together. It is also very harmful for the country when parties come together, regardless of their vision, history or ideology, only to grab power. The mid-90s and those who remember the ‘Third Front’ years will stand testament to how the average citizen suffered because of this.
There’s a real chance that Maharashtra bypolls will see a repeat of what happened in UP
Shiv Sena group leader, Maharashtra Legislative Council
The Shiv Sena has resolved to contest all the elections on its own. In Palghar, the party was initially of the opinion that it will not contest and allow deceased MP Chintaman Wanga’s son to retain his father’s seat like we have done in so many other bypolls. But when Wanga’s son himself approached the Shiv Sena, saying that the BJP has not treated the family right, our party chief made a decision to support him.
The bypoll also gives the Shiv Sena an opportunity to show its strength in Palghar district.
In Bhandara-Gondia, the Congress-NCP alliance too has a chance to test their alliance against the BJP. The two parties have come together because they have been out of power. The BJP should have foreseen this, and realised that it is important to stay in an alliance with the Shiv Sena to face the likelihood of the Congress and the NCP coming together. The onus was much more on the BJP to treat its ally right and not take us for granted.
There is a real possibility that a repeat of what happened in the Uttar Pradesh bypolls earlier this year can happen in Maharashtra now.
While bypolls are characterised by local issues and low voter turnouts, this one is significant because it is in the face of the Lok Sabha elections. There is not even a year left for the 2019 polls, and the result in the two Lok Sabha bypolls will be indicative of the public mood.
In 2014, the BJP had a clean slate and didn’t have to be answerable to the public. But this time, voters are looking at the account of all that the party has done in the last four years.
Public and social media anger against establishment may reflect in the results
Assistant professor, department of civics and politics, Mumbai University
The elections in Bhandara-Gondia and Palghar have intensified the political debate in the state. In Palghar, Shriniwas Wanga, son of late Chintaman Wanga, shifted his loyalty to the Shiv Sena, thus further spoiling the relationship between the Shiv Sena and the BJP.
The overall strategy of the BJP is to incorporate people with elective merit from all political parties. This is supported by a huge pumping of resources and the propaganda blitzkrieg.
Besides this, there are elections for various categories of legislative council seats, which are also an interesting set of polls. While these are usually marked by low voter registration, and lower turnout, this year the contest is going to be multi-lateral because the Shiv Sena and the BJP will be pitted against each other. More importantly, the overall public and social media anger against the establishment may reflect in the electoral results.
Overall, 2018 is going to be an interesting year because political alignments are going to change quickly and imaginatively. The fatigue created by the loud propaganda of the ruling elite is going to have a collateral damage sooner than later. The bypolls and the legislative council elections are going to be a litmus test for the change to be.
Every party has a point to prove in these bypolls
Associate Editor, ThePrint
There has been an unsaid understanding in Maharashtra that when a seat is vacated due to a sitting MP or MLA’s death, political parties usually do not contest the bypoll. They allow the deceased public representative’s kin to contest, and the party to which he belonged to retain the seat.
However, Monday’s bypoll for two Lok Sabha seats has been characterised by all such norms being thrown out of the window and a heightened political drama with all anti-BJP parties pulling out all stops.
The Palghar seat was vacated after sitting BJP MP died, while the Bhandara-Gondia seat fell vacant after Nana Patole quit the BJP and resigned from his Lok Sabha membership to then join the Congress.
The bypoll in the Assembly constituency of Palus Kadegaon, however, won’t witness any drama. The seat fell vacant following the death of Congress MLA Patangrao Kadam. Other parties are not contesting here, allowing Kadam’s son to retain his father’s constituency.
The bypolls on two Lok Sabha seats will be a test for the Shiv Sena, the Congress and the NCP in their own separate ways.
The Shiv Sena pulled a fast one on the BJP by inducting the deceased MP’s son in the party and nominating him as the candidate in Palghar. By doing so, the party is trying to send two message—it is honouring the deceased MP’s kin as has been the tradition, and it can walk the talk on its resolution of contesting all polls independently against ally BJP.
The BJP has responded by slamming the Shiv Sena as dishonest, poaching a Congress leader to be its candidate in the constituency, and bringing in an array of leaders, right from chief minister Devendra Fadnavis to his counterpart in Uttar Pradesh Yogi Adityanath to union minister Smriti Irani, to campaign.
For the Congress and the NCP, which have been looking at a reconciliation ahead of the 2019 polls, this election has turned into a battleground to test how well the two parties can agree on seat-sharing and show their combined strength against the BJP.
Congress’ Patole, who held the Bhandara-Gondia seat while he was with the BJP, made way for an NCP candidate to contest the seat which has been a traditional stronghold of senior NCP leader Praful Patel. The contest here is now largely between the NCP, supported by Congress, and the BJP.
Bypolls are usually low-key, with a dismal voter turnout, but this time, all political players seem to have a point to prove here.
Compiled by Manasi Phadke, associate editor at ThePrint.