Polls and Polarization in Indian Politics

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Of all the Lok Sabha by-elections in this round, Kairana in Uttar Pradesh evoked special interest because of the coming together of the opposition parties against the Bharatiya Janata Party. The candidate of the Rashtriya Lok Dal, a party with a base consisting largely of the Jats, was a Muslim woman, Tabassum Hasan, and she won as a representative of a broad-based coalition, which included the Samajwadi Party, the Bahujan Samaj Party and the Congress.

That the RLD chose a Muslim candidate was significant as the party had suffered an erosion in its support base after the Muzaffarnagar riots of 2013 involving Jats and Muslims. To try to win back his core constituency of Jats with a Muslim candidate was a bold strategy, but RLD leader Ajit Singh was encouraged not only by the process of rapprochement on the ground over the last few months, but also by the backing of the three major opposition parties in U.P. Mr. Singh knew he needed the support of all the anti-BJP votes, and a Muslim candidate must have seemed the best bet.

The BJP retained its core base, but this was never going to be enough in western U.P. — just as it was not against the SP-BSP alliance in Gorakhpur and Phulpur in March. The Noorpur Assembly by-election stayed with the same trend, with the SP winning it back from the BJP. What should worry the BJP is what this portends for the 2019 Lok Sabha election.

Instead of a communal polarisation, the BJP is faced with a political polarisation. The BJP’s very success in the first-past-the-post system appears to have created the conditions for its defeat: a forced coming-together of disparate parties.

 
With less than a year to go for the big election, this rainbow coalition is likely to stay the course. Nothing succeeds like success.

In Maharashtra the results were mixed. The party that gave the BJP the chase in the Palghar Lok Sabha seat was its own ally in government, the Shiv Sena. In Bhandara-Gondia, the Nationalist Congress Party wrested the seat from the BJP. To add to the cheer in the opposition camp, the Assembly seat of Palus-Kadegaon was retained by the Congress.

The other Lok Sabha seat at stake, Nagaland, went the NDA way, and the BJP won an Assembly by-election in Uttarakhand. But elsewhere, the BJP and the NDA had little cause for celebration. The Janata Dal (United), the BJP’s current ally in Bihar, lost to the Rashtriya Janata Dal, signalling some erosion in the support base of Chief Minister Nitish Kumar.

To no one’s surprise, the Assembly seats in Punjab, Karnataka and Meghalaya went to the Congress, and the Left Democratic Front retained its seat in Kerala. Likewise, the JMM retained its two seats in Jharkhand, and the Trinamool held Maheshtala. Overall, the main message from these results from different parts of the country is far from comforting for the BJP. The Hindu Editorial (June 1, 2018)