The shadow of the Hathras alleged rape and murder case is looming large over the by-elections to seven Assembly constituencies in Uttar Pradesh. There's another rape case that's important in the bypoll in at least one seat – Bangarmau, which was vacated by suspended BJP MLA Kuldeep Sengar after he was convicted of rape.
With the Yogi Adityanath government facing a great deal of flak for its handling of the case, the bypolls have become a prestige battle for chief minister.
The bypolls - due on 3 November - are also crucial for the Opposition parties, which have tried to put the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) on the mat over the Hathras case, the new farm laws and the job crisis.
It will be crucial to see which party among the Samajwadi Party (SP), Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), and the Congress emerges as the main challenger to the BJP in Uttar Pradesh in the bypolls.
Seats & Key Candidates
- BJP: Shrikant Katiyar
- SP: Suresh Kumar Pal
- BSP: Mahesh Prasad
- Congress: Aarti Bajpai
The BJP had never won the seat until Kuldeep Sengar shifted to the party and won in 2017. The Jan Sangh had won the seat 50 years earlier, in 1967.
2. Ghatampur (SC)
- BJP: Upendra Paswan
- SP: Indrajit Kori
- BSP: Kuldeep Kumar
- Congress: Kripa Shankar
Like Bangarmau, the BJP had never won the Ghatampur seat until the 2017 wave.
- BJP: Manoj Singh
- SP: Lucky Yadav
- BSP: Jai Prakash
- Congress: Rakesh Mishra
This was the only non-BJP seat among the seven constituencies that will vote in the bypolls. The seat was held by veteran Samajwadi Party leader and seven-term MLA Parasnath Yadav, who passed away in June this year. The SP has fielded his son Lucky Yadav from the seat.
- BJP: Satya Prakash Mani
- SP: Brahmashankar Tripathi
- BSP: Abhayanath Tripathi
- Congress: Mukund Bhaskar Mani Tripathi
All the four major parties have fielded Brahmin candidates from Deoria. In fact, all four are Tripathis. This is considered a relatively stronger seat for the BJP as it has won it in 2012 as well as in 2017, besides in 1991 and 1993.
5. Naugawan Sadat
- BJP: Sangeeta Chauhan
- SP: Syed Jawed Abbas
- BSP: Furqan Ahmed
- Congress: Kamlesh Singh
The seat became vacant after the death of BJP leader and former cricketer Chetan Chauhan. This is one of the seats where Shia Muslims have a sizeable presence.
6. Tundla (SC)
- BJP: Prempal Dhangar
- SP: Maharaj Singh Dhangar
- BSP: Sanjeev Kumar Chak
- Congress: Snehlata
The seat fell vacant after sitting MLA SP Singh Baghel was elected to the Lok Sabha from Agra. Both the BJP and SP candidates hail from the Dhangar/Gadderia or the shepherd community.
- BJP: Usha Sirohi
- BSP: Mohammad Yunus
- Congress: Sushil Chaudhary
- RLD: Praveen Singh
The SP hasn't fielded a candidate in this seat, it is supporting the RLD nominee. Like Naugawan Sadat, the BJP has fielded the wife of the deceased MLA in this seat.
What's the Strategy for Each Party?
- The BJP has been careful not be seen as Thakur-dominated. It has fielded Thakur candidates in two seats – Malhani and Naugawan Sadat. But it has fielded a Brahmin and a Kurmi in two seats earlier held by Thakurs – Deoria and Bangarmau respectively.
- In terms of caste composition, the BJP has fielded two Thakurs, two Dalits, one Brahmin, one Jat, and one Kurmi.
- In two seats, the BJP has fielded the wives of the deceased MLAs: Usha Sirohi, wife of Virendra Sirohi in Bulandshahr, and Sangeeta Chauhan, wife of Chetan Chauhan in Naugawan Sadat. Fielding of women candidates may also be the party's way of neutralising criticism over the spate of crimes against women in Uttar Pradesh.
SP & RLD
- The Samajwadi Party has played its cards well so far. The alliance with the RLD is particularly important in this context. RLD chief Jayant Chaudhary has been campaigning aggressively against the BJP on the farm legislations as well as the Hathras case. He was even lathi-charged by the police, which led to a lot of flak for the BJP government.
- The RLD will be contesting the Bulandshahr seat with SP support and supporting the latter in all the other seats. Among the seats SP is contesting, the RLD has some influence in Naugawan Sadat and Tundla and the alliance could benefit the SP.
- The SP has balanced the caste and community equations well, having fielded two Dalits, one Muslim, one Brahmin, one Yadav, and one non-Yadav OBC.
- Unlike the BSP, which is contesting the Bihar elections, the SP has chosen to focus on the bypolls and support the RJD-Congress-Left alliance in Bihar.
- The BSP has broken from its earlier policy of not putting up candidates in by-elections.
- The party has fielded two Muslim candidates, higher than the other main parties. The SP has fielded one and the Congress and BJP have fielded none.
- This appears to be the BSP's way of winning back Muslim votes, which may have drifted away from the party following its occasional support of the Narendra Modi government on certain issues.
- The Congress has fielded three Brahmin candidates – in Bangarmau, Malhani and Deoria – more than any of the other three parties. This needs to be seen as part of the party's efforts at winning back this vote bank which it lost in the late 1980s.
- Significantly, the party has also fielded two female candidates – in Bangarmau and Tundla. Putting up a female candidate in the seat vacated by rape convict Kuldeep Sengar is said to be part of the party's strategy to raise this issue to put the Yogi government on the mat.
- The visits of former Congress president Rahul Gandhi and UP in-charge Priyanka Gandhi to Hathras following the rape case, gained a great deal of buzz and the party is hoping that this would translate into votes in the bypolls.
What is at Stake?
For Yogi Adityanath and the BJP
- Even though he enjoys a huge majority in the UP Assembly, the stakes are still high for UP CM Yogi Adityanath. The BJP held six out of seven seats that are going to the polls. The BJP would at the very least want to maintain its tally.
- But this is easier said than done as the party doesn't have a great track record as far as bypolls in UP are concerned.
- UP also doesn’t have a history of giving a very strong advantage to the incumbent party in bypolls. Between 2009 and 2019, the ruling party at the state level won 58 percent of the bypolls, much lower than states like Punjab or Uttarakhand where its 90 percent and above.
- Following the Hathras case, the spotlight is squarely on UP CM Yogi Adityanath. Winning anything less than five seats would be an embarrassment for the BJP and will give a morale booster to the Opposition.
- The West UP seats – Bulandshahr, Naugawan Sadat and Bulandshahr – are also important from the point of view of the new farm laws of the Modi government, since farmer unions are active in this belt. The RLD in particular is actively using to to corner the BJP.
For the Opposition
- The real tussle, however, is between the SP, BSP, and Congress on who is to emerge as the main challenge to the BJP.
- Inputs from the ground reveal that the SP still remains the strongest Opposition party on the ground. However, the lack of visibility of Akhilesh Yadav during the Hathras incident raised many questions. It is the Congress leadership which grabbed the most eyeballs during that episode, even though the SP and BSP also did protest.
- If the SP manages to win a couple of seats and stay ahead of other Opposition parties, it would confirm the party’s status as the main challenger to the BJP.
- For the Congress, the stakes are probably higher. If it manages to win a seat or two, it would be able to claim that it is the rising force in Uttar Pradesh politics. However, if it draws a blank, it may lead to criticism that Priyanka Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi's burst of activity was just a one-off event.
- The BSP has taken a gamble by departing from its policy of not contesting Assembly polls. The party has the highest number of Lok Sabha seats among non-BJP parties in UP, yet on the ground it is the SP that is the most visible and in the media it is the Congress. These bypolls would be a chance for the BSP to silence critics and emerge as the main Opposition force in UP.