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The 13 Bypolls Today Are a Crucial Test for BJP After the Lok Sabha Setback

The 2024 elections revitalised the Opposition, and the bypolls will test its ability to sustain the momentum.

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As India prepares for assembly bypolls in 13 constituencies across seven states today, the political landscape is tense and charged with anticipation.

These elections follow the closely contested 2024 Lok Sabha elections where the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) secured 240 seats, falling short of a full majority and thus having to rely on its allies to form the government. This outcome has heightened the significance of every subsequent electoral contest for the BJP, making these bypolls particularly critical.

The seats up for grabs are Raiganj, Ranaghat Dakshin, Bagda, and Maniktala in West Bengal; Dehra, Hamirpur, and Nalagarh in Himachal Pradesh; Badrinath and Manglaur in Uttarakhand; Jalandhar West in Punjab; Rupauli in Bihar; Vikravandi in Tamil Nadu; and Amarwara in Madhya Pradesh. This spread across diverse states highlights the broad and varied battlegrounds where both the ruling party and the Opposition will test their strengths.

The 2024 Lok Sabha elections saw the INDIA bloc, led by the Congress, making substantial gains with the grand old party alone winning 99 seats out of the alliance's total of 232. This performance has revitalised the Opposition, making these bypolls a litmus test for the coalition's ability to sustain its momentum and challenge the BJP's dominance in key states.

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In Himachal Pradesh, the spotlight is on the Dehra seat, where the Chief Minister’s wife, Kamlesh Thakur, is contesting. The BJP is fielding former Independent MLAs who supported the party in the Rajya Sabha polls and later joined the BJP. These bypolls are crucial for the BJP to maintain its influence in the state, especially after the recent Lok Sabha setback.

The Congress has fielded the Chief Minister’s wife, Kamlesh Thakur, in Dehra. This election is strategic for the Congress, which, despite holding the chief minister’s office, has faced internal backlash. The three seats in Himachal that are going to bypolls were previously held by independents who later joined the BJP.

Winning here is essential for the Congress party to maintain stability in the state government; poor performance could risk its collapse.

Madhya Pradesh sees the BJP defending its position in Amarwara, a seat that has traditionally been a stronghold for the party. A victory here would reaffirm the BJP’s dominance in the state and boost morale among party workers and supporters.

This is a do-or-die battle for the Congress party and its veteran leader Kamal Nath. The defection of Kamlesh Shah, a three-time MLA and former associate of Nath, to the BJP was a significant blow.

To reclaim the seat, Nath has fielded Dheeran Shah Inavati, a young tribal leader. A victory here is crucial for Kamal Nath to restore the Nath family’s political influence in the region, especially after his son Nakul Nath’s defeat in the Lok Sabha elections. Winning Amarwara would signal a resurgence for the Congress and bolster the party’s morale ahead of future elections.

In Uttarakhand, the BJP faces a unique challenge in Manglaur, a constituency with a significant Muslim and Dalit population, where it has never won before. A win in Manglaur would break new ground for the BJP, showcasing its appeal beyond its traditional voter base.

The four assembly seats in West Bengal, i.e., Ranaghat Dakshin, Bagdah, Raiganj, and Maniktala, are more than just a routine exercise. They present a crucial test of strength for both the ruling Trinamool Congress (TMC) and the opposition BJP. After the TMC's resounding victory in the Lok Sabha elections, these bypolls offer the BJP a chance to regain lost ground and rebuild its presence in the state. The BJP had won three of these seats in the 2021 assembly elections, but its MLAs later defected to the TMC. The party, however, led the TMC in these assembly segments in the recent Lok Sabha polls.

The bypolls will show if the BJP can capitalise on this momentum. The TMC, on the other hand, will look to consolidate its dominance and prove that its Lok Sabha victory was not a one-off. The outcome will also be influenced by the Matua sect's political dynamics, with the TMC fielding Madhuparna Thakur, a member of the sect's rival branch, in Bagdah. The results will be a significant indicator of the political winds in West Bengal, and both parties will be watching closely.

In Punjab, the bypoll in Jalandhar West is critical for the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP). Following a disappointing performance in the Lok Sabha elections, where it won only three of Punjab’s 13 seats, AAP is looking to regain its footing. Chief Minister Bhagwant Mann’s relocation to Jalandhar signifies a strategic move to build a base in the Doaba region, aiming to consolidate AAP’s influence beyond its stronghold in Majha.

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In Tamil Nadu, the DMK faces a crucial contest against PMK and NTK for Vikravandi, with AIADMK's boycott signalling a fractured Opposition. A DMK victory would consolidate its position and send a strong message against BJP's attempts to gain ground in the state.

The Rupauli assembly bypoll in Bihar is a significant contest that reflects the state's larger political dynamics. The election was triggered by Bima Bharti's resignation from JD(U) to join RJD, making it a prestige battle between the two parties.

Both parties have fielded candidates from the influential Gangota caste, highlighting the importance of caste in Bihar's politics. The bypoll is also a referendum on Nitish Kumar and Tejashwi Yadav's leadership, with both campaigning vigorously.

The outcome will have implications beyond the assembly seat, indicating the public's mood and party machinery's effectiveness, and potentially shaping strategies for upcoming state elections.

(The author, a columnist and research scholar, teaches journalism at St. Xavier's College (autonomous), Kolkata. He tweets at @sayantan_gh. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)

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