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UP Bypolls: 7 Seats are Too Few to Affect BJP Dominance in Assembly, but Enough to Gauge Wind Direction for 2022 Battle

Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath addresses a press conference.  (PTI Photo/Nand Kumar)

Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath addresses a press conference. (PTI Photo/Nand Kumar)

Though the ruling BJP is expected to dominate the bypolls, a slight variation in the results to be announced on Tuesday could be read by many as a defining statement on chief minister Yogi Adityanath’s leadership.

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Pranshu Mishra

In a state with a 403-member legislative assembly, elections on just seven seats should generally not be a reason of much concern and importance. The poll results will have no major significance as far as numbers in the House are concerned. No matter what, the BJP with 304 MLAs will continue to hugely outnumber and dominate the opposition. Despite this, the Uttar Pradesh by-elections hold huge importance this time around. The result will be read as the prelude to the mega battle of the assembly elections in early 2022.

Though the ruling BJP dominated the bypolls, winning six of the seven seats on Tuesday, a slight variation in the results could be read by many as a defining statement on chief minister Yogi Adityanath’s leadership. More than the numbers for the BJP, it is Yogi’s own personal reputation that is at the stake in the bypolls. For the Samajwadi Party and its chief Akhilesh Yadav, it is a challenge to re-establish his and the party’s image as the strongest rival to the BJP.

For the Congress and its leader Priyanka Gandhi, the results will be a report card of sorts on their efforts to strengthen the party base and prepare a strong turf for electoral prospects in Uttar Pradesh. The results will also indicate if Priyanka’s ambitions to pitch the Congress as the principal opposition to the BJP has some realistic foundation, or if it will continue to play from the fringes while the Samajwadi Party dominates the opposition space.

For the Bahujan Samaj Party and its chief Mayawati, the outcome will be an occasion to reassess her hold on her core Dalit vote bank. So far, barring the one seat of Bulandshahar, her party is not believed to be any significant challenge on the remaining six seats. The growing political perception of increased understanding between the BSP and the BJP will also be reviewed on the basis of the poll results.

YOGI’S IMAGE AND BRAHMIN DISCONTENT

Exit polls predict a smooth ride for the BJP, the projection being that it will register a win on six or at least five of the seven seats. Even if the results go as per this expectation, the biggest focus will be on the Deoria Sadar seat in the backyard of UP CM Yogi Adityanath. The seat lies in Deoria district next to Yogi's strong turf of Gorakhpur.

A win or loss on this seat will be of immense significance. Here, all the key parties, BJP, SP, BSP and Congress, have fielded Brahmin candidates. The BJP has backed a teacher by profession and old RSS worker Satya Prakash Mani Tripathi. The SP has given a ticket to former minister Brahma Shankar Tripathi. From the BSP, it is Abhay Nath Tripathi, and from Congress it is Mukund Bhaskar Mani Tripathi in the electoral battle.

Clearly, the BJP's win or defeat here will be read with the context of Brahmin discontent against the Yogi government. A loss will further strengthen the argument, while a victory will be seen as a counter to alleged Brahmin anger.

The BJP too wants to test the waters here and that's the reason why it fielded a Brahmin. The seat was earlier held by Janmejay Singh, an OBC. The BJP's problem has been increased by late MLA Janmejaya Singh's son Ajay Singh's independent candidature.

In 2017, the BJP won six out of the seven seats where bypolls have been held. The only exception was Malhani in Jaunpur, which had fallen vacant due to the death of the Samajwadi Party's Parasnath Yadav.

While the Bangarmau seat had fallen vacant after the conviction of former BJP MLA Kuldeep Singh Sengar in a rape-and-murder case, the Tundla (reserve) seat In Firozabad went to the polls a year and a half after its MLA SP Singh Baghel won a Lok Sabha seat on a BJP ticket in 2019.

The remaining seats had seen the demise of BJP MLAs including former cricketer Chetan Chauhan from the Naugaon Sadat seat in Bijnor district. Bulandshahar Sadar and Ghatampur in Kanpur too have fallen vacant after the deaths of BJP MLAs Virendra Sirohi and Kamla Rani Varun. Kamla Rani was also a minister in the Yogi cabinet.

Apart from Deoria, the results on the other seats will also be read in the context of the UP CM’s leadership. The claimed good governance, tough action against the mafia and handling of the corona crisis: everything will be judged on basis of the bypoll results. A good performance will silence the CM’s critics; a result to the contrary will give them strength within the party.

FIGHT FOR OPPOSITION SPACE

While the BJP and Yogi Adityanath fight to maintain their position of dominance, the opposition is in a two-way contest. Fighting against the BJP as well as for space within the opposition camp. With winning over the likes of Anu Tandon, the former Congress MP from Unnao, just a day before polling, SP chief Akhilesh Yadav tried to dent the Congress’s prospects in the only seat of Bangarmau where the party’s candidate Arti Bajpayee was considered to be giving a tough fight.

Unnao's Bangarmau seat is interesting to watch as it had never gone to the BJP barring in 2017, when Kuldeep Sengar joined the party and contested polls. In 2012 and 2007, the seat was won by Sengar as an SP candidate. This time, the BJP, BSP and SP all have fielded a backward classes candidate, while the Congress has a Brahman face. If the Congress can spring a surprise here, it will be the proof of the party’s increased strength in the state, a message that will be more alarming for the Samajwadi Party rather than the BJP.

Similarly on seats like Ghatampur in neighbouring Kanpur, Deoria in the east, Bijnor in the west, even an increase in vote percentage for the Congress will be a cause of concern for the parties like the SP and BSP.

The lone seat where the Samajwadi Party seems to have dominated from the beginning is the Malhani seat in Jaunpur. The seat had fallen vacant after the demise of Samajwadi stalwart Parasnath Yadav. The SP has fielded his son as a candidate. The BJP’s electoral prospects have been further dented here by the candidature of 'mafia- politician' Dhananjay Singh as an independent contestant.


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