AHEAD OF the high-stakes assembly elections in Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh, the BJP on Sunday received a shot in the arm in the bypolls to seven assembly constituencies in six states — it retained the three seats that it had in Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Odisha, and wrested one from the Congress in Haryana.
The most keenly watched contest was in Munugode assembly seat in Telangana, where Congress MLA K Raj Gopal Reddy had resigned and joined the BJP, forcing the bypoll and triggering a showdown between the ruling Telangana Rashtra Samithi (renamed Bharat Rashtra Samithi) and the BJP. Surviving an initial scare by the BJP, TRS’s K Prabhakar Reddy won, but the BJP came second.
The Congress was wiped out, with its candidate, Palvai Sravanthi Reddy, failing to save her deposit. Significantly, the Bharat Jodo Yatra led by Rahul Gandhi was in Telangana and the party had claimed huge support in the state.
The TRS and BJP had pulled out all the stops to win the bypoll, with the high-decibel campaign eventually ending in an unprecedented 93 per cent polling. The counting of votes was a see-saw affair, with the TRS and BJP trading leads. It was only after the fifth round that the TRS started pulling ahead.
At the end of counting, the tally stood at 97,006 votes for the TRS, 86,697 for the BJP and 23,906 for the Congress.
Having lost two of three bypolls in the last two years to the BJP, the Munugode win will be a relief for the TRS ahead of next year’s assembly elections. Its tie-up with the Left parties, and the diversion of some of the votes Raj Gopal Reddy won last time to the Congress and BSP, helped the TRS. The BSP’s A Sankara Chari polled 4,146 votes.
However, the breather will be short-lived as the results are a clear indicator that the TRS — which is planning an ambitious national leap — cannot take the BJP for granted in the state. The TRS had deployed 14 state ministers and at least 50-60 MLAs to cover Munugode, and highlight the state’s “national role model” schemes.
The collapse of the Congress was telling, as Raj Gopal Reddy had, in 2018, bagged 99,239 votes — 35,000-plus more than the TRS’s Prabhakar Reddy — despite a TRS sweep in the state. The BJP’s Manohar Reddy had polled just 12,725 votes then.
The Maharashtra result was not a surprise. Rutuja Latke, the Shiv Sena-Uddhav Balasaheb Thackeray candidate won the Andheri (East) assembly bypoll by a huge margin, getting almost 77 per cent of the total votes polled. The BJP had withdrawn its candidate, giving Latke, the wife of late Shiv Sena MLA Ramesh Latke, a virtual walkover.
However, what was interesting was the votes polled by NOTA. While Latke’s nearest rival Rajesh Tripathi polled only 1,571 votes (1.8%), the None Of The Above (NOTA) option got 12,806 votes (14.8%).
The other high-profile contest was in Haryana where Kuldeep Bishnoi’s exit from the Congress had necessitated a bypoll in his family bastion of Adampur. Bishnoi is the son of former Haryana Chief Minister Bhajan Lal and his family has held sway over the constituency since 1968.
Bishnoi’s son Bhavya Bishnoi, 29, won on a BJP ticket by a margin of over 15,000 votes. Kuldeep, a two-time MP and four-time MLA, had quit the Congress and joined the BJP in August.
The Congress’s Jai Prakash polled 51,752 votes, followed by INLD’s Kurdaram Nambardar with 5,248 votes, and AAP’s Satender Singh with 3,420 votes.
In Bihar, the BJP retained Gopalganj while the RJD managed to retain Mokama, but both parties saw reduced victory margins. The BJP was up against a formidable social combination of the grand alliance led by Chief Minister Nitish Kumar.
While the victory margin in Mokama for RJD candidate Neelam Devi, wife of former MLA Anant Singh, was down to less than 17,000, BJP’s Kusum Devi, wife of former MLA Subhash Singh, won the Gopalganj seat by just 1,794 votes.
Mokama bypoll was necessitated after RJD MLA Anant Singh lost his Assembly membership following his conviction in an Arms Act case recently. A stronghold of his family, the victory of his wife was a foregone conclusion, and the election was all about the margin of victory. Anant had won the seat in 2020 by over 35,000 votes.
In Gopalganj, Kusum Devi managed to defeat RJD-JD(U)-Congress’s Mohan Prasad Gupta. In 2020, BSP’s Anirudh Prasad, aka Sadhu Yadav, had come second with 40,000-odd votes, but this time his wife Indira Yadav came a distant third with only 8,854 votes. Interestingly, the AIMIM candidate got over 12,000 votes.
The BSP and AIMIM candidates together secured over 20,000 votes, which the RJD alliance claimed indirectly helped the BJP.
In Uttar Pradesh, BJP’s Aman Giri defeated SP’s Vinay Tiwari by a margin of 34,298 votes in Gola Gokarannath assembly seat in Lakhimpur Kheri district. The victory has come as a morale booster for the BJP ahead of the Mainpuri Lok Sabha and Rampur assembly bypolls.
Aman Giri (26), who made his political debut, saw a bigger winning margin than his father Arvind Giri (29,294 votes), whose death had necessitated the bypoll.
In Odisha, the BJP retained the Dhamnagar assembly seat, defeating the ruling BJD by over 9,800 votes. This is the first time since the 2019 assembly elections that the BJD has lost a bypoll in the state.
The bypoll was necessitated by the death of BJP MLA Bishnu Charan Sethi in September. Sethi’s son Suryabanshi Suraj, who was the party’s candidate, secured 80,351 votes, while BJD’s Abanti Das bagged 70,470 votes. Congress nominee Baba Harekrushna Sethi got only 3,561 votes.