Column | Several bypolls add to the buzz around state polls this month

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Ahead of the assembly polls to Maharashtra and Haryana on October 21, the big focus is on the fight between the BJP and Congress, along with their allies, but the 49 by-elections for 17 state assemblies on the same day are also important for national and regional parties. Even though the Election Commission (EC) took away some of the excitement when it postponed the bypolls to 15 Karnataka assembly seats to December, from the initially announced 64 across the country, there is still a big buzz in other states including Kerala.

In Karnataka, the 15 seats fell vacant after the Speaker recently disqualified the MLAs elected on Congress and JD(S) symbols. The election watchdog has decided to wait for the outcome of their appeal to the Supreme Court before calling the bypolls again. The disqualified MLAs are hoping they would be eligible to contest on BJP tickets. The fate of the Yeddyurappa government will depend on the BJP winning at least eight of these bypolls and with the EC going back on its initial announcement, the suspense on this count too is postponed by six weeks.

Special case

But the man who has won even before filing the nomination for the by-elections is Sikkim Chief Minister Prem Singh Tamang. He also owes his rebirth to the EC which has reduced the period of disqualification from contesting elections for him. He had become the CM in May without entering the fray in the assembly polls. In a generous order, the EC recently reduced his disqualification from six years to one year and one month since 2018. Now Tamang will contest the by-elections within the six-month grace period allowed for non-MLAs who become ministers. His party, the Sikkim Krantikari Morcha had defeated the Sikkim Democratic Front of long-serving CM Pawan Kumar Chamling. In all, three assembly bypolls will be held in Sikkim.

UP tops

The highest number of 11 bypolls are in Uttar Pradesh as 10 seats became vacant with MLAs becoming MPs and one MLA being appointed a governor. Though Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath has a commanding majority in the assembly, his focus is on wresting the Rampur seat from the family of Samajwadi Party leader Azam Khan. Since Khan was elected to Lok Sabha, his wife Tazeen Fatma has been fielded in the family pocket borough. As Khan faces several cases of misuse of power and corruption allegedly committed when he was a minister in the governments of Mulayam Singh Yadav and Akhilesh Yadav, the BJP is hoping to win the seat. The Samajwadi Party which has been battered by defections after the BJP's strong show in the recent Lok Sabha elections, has opted for lot of new faces in the October by-elections.

Other BJP states

In the four by-elections of Assam, Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal will know whether the controversial National Register of Citizens which has drawn criticism from both the RSS and the opposition is a key issue that can sway the voter mood. In the four seats going for polls in Gujarat, another BJP-ruled state, the party has given tickets to two Congress defectors including youth leader Alpesh Thakor, and the Congress has a fight on its hands after the complete washout in the Lok Sabha elections.  

In Himachal Pradesh, the BJP is confident of retaining the two seats, as the state Congress is only now regrouping after the drubbing in the Lok Sabha elections.

Congress-ruled states

Interestingly, the Congress itself has tough challenges in the states ruled by it. In the lone election of Madhya Pradesh, where the party survives on support of independents and small parties, the Jhabua by-election has become a prestigious one. Though the seat was held by BJP and its MLA got elected to the Lok Sabha, the Congress has fielded its veteran Kantilal Bhuria, who had won the Lok Sabha seat in a by-election during Narendra Modi's first term, thus signalling the revival of Congress in Madhya Pradesh, then firmly under the BJP. Though Bhuria lost two elections, he is trying again and if he wins, it will bring more comfort for Chief Minister Kamal Nath. Otherwise, a BJP victory could make the saffron party more aggressive in its bid to topple the Congress government.

In neighbouring Chhattsigarh, the ruling Congress is banking on wresting the Chitrakoot reserved constituency which will give it all the assembly seats in Maoist-affected Bastar district.  

Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh who has completed two and half years in office and had a successful ride in the Lok Sabha elections, is looking to consolidate his hold through four bypolls. More than the challenge from opposition Akali Dal-BJP combination, it is the resentment within the ranks of ticket aspirants in his party which is a challenge for the chief minister.  Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot is concentrating on the two assembly seats which had been held by the NDA to bolster his numbers, but the ground situation is tough in both Mandawa and Khinwsar constituencies.

Contests elsewhere

Down south, Tamil Nadu has two by-elections in which the DMK hopes to put more pressure on the ruling AIADMK. DMK had huge success in Lok Sabha elections even though its rival the AIADMK is part of Narendra Modi's NDA.

In the five by-elections in Bihar, Chief Minister Nitish Kumar is aggressively campaigning for the repeat of Lok Sabha election results, but there are rumblings within the opposition Mahagathbandhan as smaller partners are upset at denial of seats by the Rashtriya Janata Dal and Congress.

The lone by-elections in Arunachal Pradesh, Odisha, Meghalaya and Telangana will not have any impact on the state governments.

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