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Bypoll Battle for 51 Assembly, Two Lok Sabha Seats: A Test of BJP's Popularity?

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The Wire
21st October, 2019 20:30 IST

New Delhi: Fifty one assembly seats and two Lok Sabha constituencies across 18 states went to the polls on Monday.

The bypolls were held along with assembly elections in Maharashtra and Haryana. While the outcome is expected to be determined by regional factors, the BJP has tried hard to project it as a referendum on its campaign around national security and the Narendra Modi government’s decision to dilute Article 370 and bifurcate the state of Jammu and Kashmir into union territories. 

Fresh from its comprehensive win in the parliamentary elections which were held in May, 2019, the saffron party is expected to do well, but opposition parties are also hoping to cash in on any degree of anti-incumbency. 

The saffron party is seeking re-election in 30 of the 51 seats, while the Congress is fighting to retain 12. The remaining seats were held by different regional parties. The states where bypolls were held are – Uttar Pradesh (11), Gujarat (6), Bihar (1 Lok Sabha and 5 assembly seats), Assam (4), Himachal Pradesh (2), Tamil Nadu (2), Punjab (4), Kerala (5), Sikkim (3), Rajasthan (2), Arunachal Pradesh (1), Madhya Pradesh (1), Odisha (1), Chhattisgarh (1), Puducherry (1), Meghalaya (1) and Telangana (1). One Lok Sabha seat in Maharashtra – Satara – also went to the polls. 

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Poll officials cross the double decker living root bridge on the eve of the 26 Sheila AC bypoll in Meghalaya on October 20, 2019. Photo: PTI

The bypolls in Uttar Pradesh will be keenly watched as unlike the Lok Sabha polls, the Samajwadi Party and Bahujan Samaj Party are contesting separately. Congress, too, has fielded its candidates in all 11 seats. The by-elections are seen as a test for the chief minister Adityanath’s popularity. He has been under attack by the opposition for failing to control the deteriorating law and order situation.

The bypolls were necessitated either because of the sitting representatives died or were elected to the Lok Sabha. In some other places, the elections were also held as legislators switched parties after getting elected and were forced to resign. 

Bihar’s Lok Sabha seat Samastipur, where bypoll was necessitated because of the death of Lok Janshakti Party’s Ram Chandra Paswan, is another high-profile seat. The five assembly seats up for contention will also determine how the ruling Janata Dal (United)-BJP combine may fare in the assembly elections due next year.

In Gujarat, Alpesh Thakor, who rose to fame during the last assembly elections in the state as a young turk in the Congress, is contesting from Radhanpur. He quit the Congress and is contesting as the BJP candidate from the north Gujarat seat.   

The results of the five Kerala seats are also eagerly awaited as the ruling Left Democratic Front is looking to win all the seats after the drubbing it faced at the hands of the Congress-led United Democratic Front in the parliamentary polls. The LDF’s recent win in Pala, a traditional stronghold of the UDF, appears to have boosted its spirit.  

In Sikkim, chief minister Prem Singh Tamang is contesting from the Poklok Kamrang seat. Tamang’s party Sikkim Krantikari Morcha (SKM) is a part of the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance. Another interesting contest to look out for is Gangtok from where footballer Bhaichung Bhutia is contesting on Hamro Sikkim Party (HSP) ticket.

The ruling Congress will be looking to consolidate its strength by winning Chhattisgarh’s Chitrakoot, a seat under Maoist influence. Similarly, it will attempt to wrest the two seats in Rajasthan – Madawa and Khivsar – from BJP and its ally Rashtriya Loktantrik Party and secure itself a good number in assembly. A win in the sole Madhya Pradesh seat – Jhabua – will also consolidate Kamal Nath-led Congress government’s position in the state. Senior Congress leader Kantilal Bhuria and BJP’s Bhanu Bhuria, who is making his electoral debut will take on each other in this reserved constituency. 

The battle in Odisha’s Bijepur will also be closely watched. It is a seat which chief minister Naveen Patnaik vacated for retaining his traditional constituency Hinjili. The 2018 bypoll in Bijepur was a hard-fought election last year and BJD’s win in this Congress stronghold put the regional party in firm footing. 

The Election Commission of India had announced bypolls to 15 assembly seats in Karnataka too. But it controversially retracted its decision as it wanted the Supreme Court to give its judgement in the disqualification case against 15 MLAs, who had defected to the BJP and toppled the Congress-Janata Dal (Secular) state government earlier this year. 

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