Just a week before the Narendra Modi government completes 100 days, the BJP has received an electoral jolt. Out of the 18 assembly constituencies where by-elections took place across four states, BJP and its allies have won eight seats, whereas opposition Congress and its allies have won 10 seats. Meanwhile, the opposition which just got battered a few months ago, seems to have got some fresh oxygen to fight another day. But is it the end of the Modi wave as many would like to believe or is it too early to extrapolate such inferences? Let's examine some state specific analysis.
The most anticipated battle was in Bihar, with the state politics going through a lot of churning in the last year or so. In the general elections, BJP and LJP won 31 out of the 40 seats. Hence, facing a very real risk of political extinction, long term foes Nitish Kumar and Lalu Prasad Yadav decided to join hands. Along with the Congress, they formed the so-called “secular alliance” versus BJP. The alliance for now has come up trumps, winning six out of the 10 seats, while the LJP and BJP won just four assembly seats. In the general election, NDA was leading in eight of the 10 assembly divisions. So in that sense, there is a considerable ground shift in Bihar.
But the real challenge for the rainbow coalition of the Yadavs, Dalits, most backward classes, Kurmis and Muslims will come now. This cache of 10 seats was used by the secular alliance for ground testing. Now that there is some proof that the alliance works on the ground, there will be a greater hankering for seats. Come Assembly elections, the leaders from the RJD and JDU will be locked in a vigorous tussle for seat sharing. Congress, though a minority player in the equation, won't be left behind. Even in the Lok Sabha polls, the vote-share of JDU, Congress alliance added with that of RJD was nearly 7% more than that of the NDA. Nitish and Lalu campaigned vigorously in the state for the by-election, whereas most of the top BJP leaders stayed away. Also all polls pre-May 16 suggested that a section of voters who swayed towards BJP would like to repose faith in Nitish Kumar in the Assembly polls. Hence, the Bihar results are a manifestation of several complex factors and making a broad generalisation would be foolhardy. The only thing it shows is that caste politics is still very much alive and kicking in the state, for better or worse. BJP has to try to bridge the gap in vote share in next year's assembly polls by following its development agenda at the Centre and strong leadership in the state.
In Karnataka, the BJP lost the Bellary rural seat to the Congress. But in the Lok Sabha elections, BJP's B Sriramulu got a very slender lead of 7,000 from the seat. In the last assembly election, Sriramulu won the seat contesting from a BSR ticket and the BJP actually fared pretty badly. Thus losing the Bellary rural seat is perhaps not a big setback for BJP as it is suggested by some. The more alarming thing for the saffron unit will be Yeddyurappa's son Raghavendra scrapping by merely 4,000 votes in Shikaripura. In the 2013 Assembly polls, Yeddyurappa won the seat by almost 50,000 votes and in the last Lok Sabha polls, he was leading by over 70,000 votes in the same seat. Thus this was a traditional bastion of the party where the party has lost considerable support. The perils of dynastic politics probably took a toll. Also the constant strife between Ananth Kumar and Yeddyurappa has hurt BJP in the past. An over encompassing Modi wave glossed over all the deficiencies. But now they are pronounced again.
In Madhya Pradesh, the BJP won two of the three seats. The Congress won the third. Madhya Pradesh, led by Shivraj Singh Chauhan has been a fort of the saffron brigade in the last few years and this election has maintained the trend.
In Punjab, out of the two seats, Akalis won one and the Congress won the other. AAP which emerged as a surprising force in the last poll, has drawn a complete blank, even losing their deposit in both the seats.
Thus, in all, the bypoll results look like an accumulation of various local factors in play in each state. It is facile to predict whether the Modi wave is over or not as Modi was hardly a factor here. At best it can be said, the frenzy generated during the elections which catapulted the saffron brigade to an unprecedented success has died down. The stark drop in vote share also suggests this. But that was only expected as the reason for the frenzy is non existent now. The UPA government which was seen as largely ineffective has been replaced by Narendra Modi's government. The backlash in May was against the UPA and Modi was effective in projecting himself as a credible alternative.
The upcoming assembly elections in Maharashtra, Jammu & Kashmir, Haryana and Jharkhand will be a crucial referendum of Narendra Modi's performance. Modi is expected to campaign extensively and along with his trusted lieutenant Amit Shah, he would like to keep a clean slate in the Assembly elections. Any fall will mean the knives will be out. The bypoll results show that regional leaders of the BJP can't sweep the election without the help of the central leadership even in a feel-good environment. Thus Amit Shah could further get his way in the future. How the Shah-Modi duo crack the Bihar puzzle will be intriguing to watch.
But opposition leaders, especially the Congress, will probably have a good night's sleep today. Battered in the Lok Sabha elections, the bypoll results will be a much needed impetus for them to get their act together. There are more important issues in India than hankering about the Leader of Opposition post. This result shows that even in Modi-raj, the BJP can't just stand up and get elected. Voters don't like to be taken for granted and the development mantra will be the only way forward. Also a one party domination in India is unlikely to happen any time soon. Indian democracy is alive and kicking.