The results of bypolls to 56 Assembly (and one Lok Sabha) seats across a dozen states will be announced today, with contests in Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh among the most absorbing. Half the vacant seats are in Madhya Pradesh, where the result will be viewed by many as a comment on the BJP’s Jyotiraditya Scindia and the clout he may (or may not) wield since he quit the Congress in March. Seven seats will be filled in UP, with the one held by the BJP’s Kuldeep Singh Sengar the highlight; it fell vacant after he was convicted in the Unnao rape case in December last year. Other states where bypolls were held – on November 3 – include Karnataka, Gujarat, Odisha and Telangana. Bypolls for seats in Manipur and a Lok Sabha constituency in Bihar were held November 7. All elections took place amid strict restrictions due to the Covid pandemic.
22 of the 28 seats in Madhya Pradesh fell vacant after Jyotiraditya Scindia’s crossover in March, which triggered the fall of the Kamal Nath government and the return of the BJP. He will be expected to ensure the MLAs who resigned to support him are re-elected. 16 of these seats are from the Gwalior and Chambal regions of the state, which are widely regarded as strongholds of the Scindia family. The big story during campaigning was Kamal Nath’s “item” remark about a former Congress minister. The Election Commission removed him as “star campaigner” but the Supreme Court put that order on hold.
The result is unlikely to affect the Shivraj Singh Chouhan government; the Congress must win all 28 to even think about challenging the BJP. In politics, though, power and prestige go hand-in-hand and the Congress will be eager to win back as many of the surrendered seats as possible to reassert itself in the state. The BJP needs to win nine to claim a simple majority; it is currently propped up by smaller parties and independents. Voting in the state was largely peaceful, except for two reports of firing in the Morena Sumawali seat.
In UP the Samajwadi Party has accused the BJP of fraud and rigging the election. SP chief Akhilesh Yadav told news agency PTI that the Yogi Adityanath government had “made an arrangement so people could not exercise their votes”. However, Mr Yadav declined to give specifics. He said he would provide “detailed information” after the results were declared. Yogi Adityanath, criticised for a poor track record on women’s safety, spoke about “love jihad” while campaigning and issued a thinly-veiled threat of violence.
The high-profile seat in UP is Bangarmau, which was held by the BJP’s Kuldeep Singh Sengar till his conviction in the Unnao rape case in December last year. The Ghatampur seat fell vacant after the death of Kamal Rani Varun, a state minister, and a victim of the novel coronavirus. The bypoll also marked the electoral debut of Bhim Army chief Chandrashekhar Azad, who has been fiercely critical of the Yogi Adityanath government over the alleged gang rape in the state’s Hathras district, and whose convoy was reportedly shot at last month while campaigning for the Bulandshahr seat.
Two seats are up for grabs in Karnataka – Sira in Tumakuru district and Rajarajeshwarinagar in Bengaluru – with the Congress, the JDS and the BJP contesting against each other in both. The result will make no real difference – the BJP will remain in power – but the contest between former allies JDS and Congress will be watched. All three parties have exuded confidence and each believes they will win both seats.
In Gujarat there are eight seats to be filled. All eight were held by the Congress but fell vacant after the incumbents jumped ship to the BJP ahead of Rajya Sabha election in June. Five of the eight BJP candidates in this election are former Congress leaders looking to reclaim the seats they surrendered. The Congress, meanwhile, has also alleged a “cash for votes” scam in at least two booths and has filed a complaint with the Election Officer.
The Odisha Assembly has two vacant seats – Balasore (held by the BJP) and Tirol (held by the ruling BJD). Other bypolls on November 3 were for one seat each in Chhattisgarh and Telangana.
In Chattisgarh the Marwahi seat fell vacant after the death of former Chief Minister Ajit Jogi and will see a Congress-BJP fight. In Telangana there will be three-way fight for the Dubbak seat between the BJP, the ruling TRS and the Congress.
Bypolls were also held for two seats in Nagaland, two in Jharkhand and one in Haryana. The BJP fielded Olympic wrestler Yogeshwar Dutt in the race for the Baroda seat in Haryana’s Sonipat district; Mr Dutt had lost the same seat in last year’s Assembly elections to the Congress’s Krishnan Hooda, who died in April.
On November 7 four seats in Manipur went to the polls. This was after the Congress incumbents quit to join the BJP. A bypoll for the Valmiki Nagar Lok Sabha seat in Bihar was also held; the seat fell vacant after the JDU’s Baidyanath Mahto died in February.
With input from PTI