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U.P. elections show fall in BJP popularity
By P M Damodaran, Lucknow

There is nothing to cherish for the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party in the results of the bye-elections to three assembly seats held on February 19 in Uttar Pradesh. Though the BJP managed to hold on to one seat it held in the last general elections, the results had shown an erosion of the party's vote base. The Samajwadi Party, the main opposition party in the state, did not fare better. The clear gainer was the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), which wrested a seat from the Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD) of Mr. Ajit Singh, besides doing extremely well in the other two seats. On the other hand, the Congress, which claims to be on a revival mode, could not make its presence felt in the by-polls.

It is true that the bye-elections were held for only three seats (in a house of 425) and cannot be considered even as a random verdict in a big state like U.P. Yet they cannot be ignored altogether. With only less than a year to go for the Assembly elections in the state, the warning to the major parties, the BJP and the Samajwadi Party, was loud and clear. For the BJP, the anti-incumbency factor, the coalition politics and the inner party politics seem to have taken their toll and the party's popularity has nose-dived. But the results show that the Samajwadi Party could not cash in on the failures of the BJP-led government in the state.

The only saving grace for the BJP was that it could retain the Sarsawa seat (in Saharanpur district), though with a reduced and narrow margin. In the other two seats, Bharthana in Etawah district and Siwalkhas in Meerut district, BJP candidates came a poor third. In fact the party nominee lost his security deposit in Siwalkhas seat!

The BJP's none-too-good performance in the by-polls came the wake of its poor show in the 1999 Lok Sabha and last year's panchayati raj and civic elections. The results of the bye-elections may prompt the BJP to review its election strategy for the next year's assembly polls.

The real gainer in the by-polls was the BSP. It wrested Siwalkhas from the RLD and its candidates came a close second to the winners in the remaining two seats. The victory of the BSP nominee over the RLD candidate in Siwalkhas was significant. It showed that Mr. Ajit Singh's hold on the farmers in his fiefdom is on the wane. The BSP leaders are quite happy and claim that the en bloc support of the Muslims to its candidate had ensured his victory in Siwalkhas. If this claim has any substance, it is a danger signal for the Samajwadi Party that thrives on the support of the minority communities and Yadavs. The good show by the BSP in electoral arena during the past two years indicates that the party may be big threat to the BJP and the Samajwadi Party in the next year's Assembly elections.

The Congress may well like to forget the results of the by-polls as they had come as a severe drubbing for the party. Its candidates had lost their security deposits in all the four seats though its nominees were runners-up to the winners in two seats in the last elections in 1996. (However, it was a fact that the party had an alliance with the BSP to contest the assembly elections in 1996). The party lacked direction in campaign in the by-polls as its leaders were busy in organizing the farmers' agitation. Besides, the party in the state is in total disarray due to infighting and groupism. The poor show by the Congress had come in the wake of its creditable show in the civic polls last year and the none-too-bad performance in the Lok Sabha elections in 1999.
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