Never have by-election results made waves of the kind that last week’s did. Only two out of 14 seats were won by the BJP, the party that is generally projected as the unstoppable force sweeping across the country. Opponents were quick to proclaim its stoppability.
It would be a mistake to hurry to the conclusion that the BJP is losing ground and will be overtaken in next year’s general election. The party has strengths that other parties do not have, and will not have in the immediate future. The most important of these are its booth-level organisational strength and its unmatched financial resources. To these should be added two significant factors: That the party is in power in Delhi, and that it is led by a fighter who is known to do whatever it takes to win.
Nevertheless, the picture that unveiled itself last week had its own implications. One is that the minor status of minor parties has been further underlined. Shiv Sena in Palghar, Maharashtra and JD(S) in RR Nagar, Bengaluru became also-rans because they refused to cooperate with other groups. Sena is allegedly a partner of the BJP and yet became the main party fighting it in Palghar. It lost by more than 29,000 votes. Shiv Sena, an accidental party born of a 1960s sentiment in Bombay against non-locals, has no ideological validity today. Its best bet would have been to stick with the BJP and share bits and pieces of power or join an Opposition grouping. Its chief says it will fight all future elections solo. Which means there won’t be many future elections to fight.
The JD(S) in Karnataka, after joining hands with the Congress to form the Government, declined to face the RR Nagar election jointly. Patriarch Deve Gowda’s self-centred ambitions were on display here. Cooperation only in the legislature, not outside, he said. That was a meaningless stance and his party ended up a poor third after winner Congress and runner-up BJP. What further devices will this narrow-visioned politician think up, endangering the ruling coalition between his party and the Congress? Palghar and RR Nagar demonstrated the foolishness of Opposition parties ignoring the overwhelming advantages the BJP enjoys as the Prime Minister’s party.
By far the most important outcome last week was the defeat of the BJP in two Uttar Pradesh constituencies. Noorpur went with the Samajwadi Party and Kairana with the RLD. Forgive those who ask: RLD? What’s that? It is the inconsequential Rashtriya Lok Dal of the inconsequential Ajit Singh. But in Kairana, the RLD was backed by the Samajwadi Party, the Bahujan Samaj Party and the Congress. And its candidate romped home with a comfortable margin of 44,618 votes.
Let it be noted that Kairana is the third Parliament seat the BJP has lost in UP after the celebrated Yogi
Adityanath became the state’s chief minister following a celebrated victory. The Yogi could not get the support of people in his own constituency of Gorakhpur; the seat vacated by him was won by an unknown party (Nishad Party founded by Sanjay Nishad) which had formed an alliance with the Samajwadi Party.
Yet, the real significance of the Kairana result is that the victorious candidate’s name is Tabassum Hasan. The BJP opponent she defeated was not only another woman, but the daughter of the sitting MP whose death had necessitated the by-election. Neither the sympathy wave nor the religion of the Opposition candidate could help her; Tabassum Hasan won in a state where the ruling party had demonstratively declined to give a single ticket to a Muslim. She has now become the first UP Muslim to enter Parliament since the BJP came to power. If the BJP’s losses in Gorakhpur and Phulpur two months ago were political setbacks, the Kairana loss is an ideological insult.
So where do we go from here? What is sure is that Yogi Adityanath is a loser. More or less sure, too, is that Amit Shah is not the magician he is reputed to be; his extremism is turning counter-productive. The dangerous connotation of this is that he might turn to more daring and unorthodox ways to get his numbers.
The most useful lesson to be learned is that Opposition unity can work wonders. Sworn enemies like Mayawati and the Mulayam family are joining hands. The Congress is accepting the reality that it must participate in coalitions as a junior party. All those who get together are deriving benefits. The moral lies in the familiar saying: Unity is strength.