Samajwadi Party candidate Nagendra Singh Patel celebrates his win after being elected to the parliamentary seat from Phulphur on March 14 in Allahabad. He defeated his nearest Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) opponent by over 59,000 votes. (Photo by IANS)
India's pro-Hindu party lost three parliamentary seats March 14 in by-elections conducted in two key Indian states, which political pundits say is a wake-up call for the ruling party to abandon any sense of complacency ahead of next year's general election.
The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) lost two seats in northern Uttar Pradesh state and one in Bihar. Both states are considered part of the Hindu heartland and the loss of the seats reveals a national mood against the BJP, say observers.
In Uttar Pradesh, India's most populous state of 200 million people, the BJP lost the parliamentary seat of its current chief minister Yogi Adityanath, which fell vacant last year when the 45-year-old was chosen to head the state government.
The loss at Gorakhpur, which Adityanath had won for the past five consecutive terms since 1998, has shocked the BJP. Rival socialist Samajwadi Party won the state by a margin of some 21,000 votes.
In recent months, Adityanath was a prominent campaigner for the BJP across many of India's states.
In the Phulpur seat in Uttar Pradesh, the BJP lost by a margin of 59,613 votes. The seat was held by Deputy Chief Minister Keshav Prasad Maurya.
In Bihar, the BJP coalition's archrival Rashtriya Janata Dal retained his seat by over 61,000 votes.
The election results should be seen in a larger perspective, said Manish Sharma, a political commentator based in New Delhi. "The BJP loss is a reflection of party's footing on ground," said Sharma.
The BJP has lost four parliamentary seats in the recent parliamentary by-elections, reducing it seats to 272. The ruling collation now has 331 seats in the 545-seat house. But its rival coalition — led by the Congress party — has only 52 seats.
Varied opposition parties together have 214 seats.
The results are an indicator that the BJP is not invincible, said Communist Party leader D. Raja. "These results would have an impact on the thinking of all the secular, democratic parties so that they evolve a proper electoral tactic, keeping in view the objective of defeating the BJP," Raja told media in New Delhi.
Several regional political leaders, like parliamentarian P. K. Kunhalikutty, believe the best way to face the BJP would be through a coalition of secular parties.
The vote share in the recent elections shows "a big swing in favor of the opposition, with a massive disenchantment among the people against the ruling BJP in both Uttar Pradesh and Bihar," said Kunhalikutty, leader of the Indian Union Muslim League in a statement to ucanews.com.
The results "prove the people of India are fed up with the BJP government's fake promises, corruption and anti-people policies," he said.
The Muslim leader wanted the BJP's archrival Congress to take proactive steps to bring together local parties to form a larger coalition against the BJP.
Kunhalikutty said his party wants socially and economically marginalized sections like Dalits and Muslims to come together to defeat the BJP's sectarian agenda in the 2019 national elections.
Catholic lay leader A.C. Michael said it is not time for those who oppose the BJP to become jubilant. "The opposition really has to work hard to stitch together nationwide coalition to face the BJP" in next year's parliamentary elections, he said.
"The BJP has now got the message clear and they will find newer ways and shrewder strategies to ensure victory," Michael said.
He said Christians — who make up 2.3 percent of the population — are politically neglected because they are scattered across the country and cannot be seen as a voting block. "However, in pockets where they are strong they should support coalitions that fight sectarianism," Michael said. "Unfortunately, Christians have not yet realized their political strength, nor have become aware of ways to assert their political rights."
The BJP, which now controls governments in 21 of India's 29 states as well as New Delhi, has been accused of unfairly supporting Hindu groups.
Rights activists say violence against India's religious minorities has increased since the BJP came to power in New Delhi following a landslide 2014 general election victory. Many hard-line Hindu groups took the poll success as a mandate for them to step up action for their goal of making India a Hindu-only nation.