The Congress Party on Wednesday retained the Mungaoli and Kolaras Assembly seats in Madhya Pradesh, while Naveen Patnaik’s Biju Janata Dal won the Bijepur Assembly bypolls in Odisha, dealing a blow to the Bharatiya Janata Party which had campaigned aggressively in both the states.
The results of the byelections in these two crucial states, close on the heels of the BJP’s rout in Rajasthan bypolls, are being viewed as proof of “rapid decline” in the saffron party’s popularity. Together, Odisha, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan account for 75 Lok Sabha seats.
The defeat in Madhya Pradesh is a body blow to chief minister Shivraj Singh Chauhan who had gone all out to wrest the seats from the Congress, and a major boost to the Congress’ Jyotiraditya Scindia who is keen on being the party’s chief ministerial candidate in the Assembly elections due later this year.
“I thank everyone from the bottom of my heart. Congratulations to everyone for this victory,” said Mr Scindia.
Both the Assembly seats fall under his Guna Lok Sabha constituency.
While the Congress’ Brijendra Singh Yadav defeated his BJP rival by a narrow margin of 2,124 votes in Mungaoli, Mahendra Singh Yadav defeated the BJP’s Devendra Jain in Kolaras by 8,083 votes.
Byelections to Mungaoli and Kolaras Assembly seats were necessitated following the death of sitting Congress candidates Mahendra Singh Kelukheda and Ram Singh Yadav respectively. The Congress had won Mungaoli and Kolaras seats by margins of 20,765 and 24,953 seats respectively in the previous elections.
In Odisha, where the BJP had campaigned aggressively and claimed to be making “major inroads”, the party lost the Bijepur Assembly berth by a massive margin of 41,0933 votes. It’s being viewed as a major victory for chief minister Naveen Patnaik.
The byelection in Odisha was held following the death of three-time Congress MLA Subal Sahu in August last year.
The BJD fielded his widow as its candidate, while Ashok Panigrahi left the BJD and contested on a BJP ticket.
The BJD’s Rita Sahu polled 1,02,871 votes, against the BJP’s 60,938 votes. The Congress finished a poor third by bagging just 10,274 votes. Voting in the three seats were took place on February 24.
Mr Scindia, who addressed 76 rallies in both the constituencies, had openly declared the election as a “Scindia v/s Shivraj” battle and targeted the Shivraj Singh Chouhan government for its failure to the address the problems of farmers and provide employment to educated youth.
The chief minister, who had addressed an equal number of rallies in both the constituencies, had fought on the poll plank of development and offered various sops to woo voters.
Since Mr Chouhan was facing massive anti-incumbency sentiment, virtually all the Cabinet ministers from Delhi were put on poll duty.
The results are being seen as an indicator of voters’ mood ahead of Assembly elections in MP later this year.
In Madhya Pradesh this is the second major victory for the Congress. In November 2017, it had won the Chitrakoot Assembly seat.
Conceding defeat, Mr Chouhan claimed that the absence of the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) in both the seats had helped the Congress.
“BSP usually garners 30,000-35,000 votes in each constituency. The victory margins of Congress in both the seats demonstrate that the party had gained by the absence of BSP in the byelections”, he said. He claimed that the byelections would not have any impact on the upcoming Assembly elections.
“Both the Assembly seats are considered traditional Congress bastions. In 2013 Assembly elections, Congress won the two seats by a margin of over 25,000 votes in each constituency. The victory margins of Congress in the byelections have come down drastically,” the chief minister said.
In Odisha, chief minister Naveen Patnaik said the Bijepur bypoll results would have an impact on future elections in the state.
Thanking the people of Bijepur for BJD’s “massive victory”, he said, “My deep gratitude to people of Bijepur for showering their blessings generously on BJD. I also thank each and every BJD worker who has worked hard for this astounding victory. We will continue our efforts to build a prosperous and empowered Odisha.”
The results in Odisha prove that Mr Patnaik’s popularity remains intact despite an aggressive campaign by the BJP, which failed to capitalise on its advantages from the panchayat polls in which it had emerged as a strong second.
While Mr Patnaik led the battle from the front for his party, Union minister Dharmendra Pradhan was spearheading the BJP’s campaign in his bid to emerge as the party’s chief ministerial candidate in the forthcoming Assembly elections.
At least six Union ministers, including Smriti Irani and Jual Oram, had campaigned for the BJP.
The Congress, on the other hand, failed to put up a spirited fight to defend the seat. Most of its prominent leaders stayed away from the campaigning.
Following the poor show, many in social media platforms posted that Odisha Pradesh Congress Committee (OPCC) president Prasad Harichandan had resigned from his post owning moral responsibility for the debacle. Mr Harichandan could not be reached for his comment.
Conceding defeat, BJP spokesperson Sajjan Sharma said the party could not register victory as Congress voters shifted to the BJD. He also suspected an “underhand deal” between the BJD and Congress.
“While the Congress secured over 57,000 in 2014 Assembly elections, it polled only 10,274 votes this time. This clearly proves that the top Congress leaders of the state were hand-in-glove with the BJD,” he said.