NEW DELHI: ““Peoples power has defeated money power, embraced love and harmony, and taught the BJP and its allies a lesson,” declared a triumphant Rashtriya Janata Dal leader Tejaswi Yadav after his party wrested Jokihat from the Janata Dal(U) with a decisive majority. TC BUREAU reports:

“We have worked together in the past and there is no reason why we can’t work together again. People want to see a strong opposition,” said Rashtriya Lok Dal’s Jayant Chaudhary.

And from all across the states voices for opposition unity were raised, as the Congress and the regional parties took the lead in all but one of the 11 Assembly bypolls held in Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Uttarakhand, West Bengal, Kerala, Jharkhand, Maharashtra, Nagaland, Meghalaya, Punjab, Karnataka in what constituted a ‘referendum.’ The BJP led in two of the four Lok Sabha bypolls, losing the big one Kairana in UP to the RLD and the united opposition.

There were smiles on all Opposition faces as the regional parties made it clear that they are now the future for India. As if accepting this the Congress party eased the Karnataka government formation process by conceding the Finance Ministers post to the Janata Dal(Secular).

Uttar Pradesh and Bihar remain crucial in the run up to the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, carrying 120 Lok Sabha seats (80+40). In UP the united Opposition won the Kairana Lok Sabha election and the Assembly by election in Noorpur.

UP has been turned into a large field for the exercise of Hindutva politics with targeted lynchings of minorities, attacks on Christian churches and pastors, love jihad assaults, along with a declared policy by the Yogi Adityanath government of “encounters”. Since 2013 when Muzaffarnagar erupted in Jat versus Muslim violence, fracturing electoral unity between the two communities, the western belt had been kept simmiering by the politics of hate and divisiveness. Kariana, in the adjacent Shamli district, thus became a litmust test for the united Opposition with Tabassum Begum being fielded as the Rashtriya Lok Dal candidate, supported by the Samajwadi party and the Bahujan Samaj party. Earler an MP from the BSP, the Begum was selected deliberately to bring together all the communities in a by poll that has wrested the seat from the BJP.

In fact the BJP’s losses in Gorakhpur, the home constituency of Adityanath, and Phoolpur Lok Sabha bypolls seems to reflect a pattern where despite keeping the divisive decibles high the party is not being able to capture the votes. These also show a sufficient dent in the voter base of the BJP in central, eastern and now through Kairana the western belts of the state. That the Jats who the BJP had tried to get into its fold through the Muzaffarnagar violence have decided to embrace the old RLD again less than a year before the parliamentary elections are due should be worrying the ruling party. More so as the unity of the opposition in UP seems to be paying dividends with the SP, BSP, RLD having made the equation between unity and survival.

The Samajwadi party won the Noorpur Assembly byelection, again important as this seat had been with the BJP for the last two state elections. This victory thus is an indication of what the Opposition insists is the changing mood in UP where the muscle power and money power of the BJP has not worked.

In Bihar reports indicating a come back of the Rashtriya Janata Dal have been confirmed rather dramatically in Bihar’s Jokihat Assembly seat. This had been made a prestige issue by Chief Minister Nitish Kumar who had pressed more than half his cabinet into action with reports of money and government power making the rounds. After an initial lead this morning when counting began, the JD(U) slumped with RJD forging ahead to claim the seat.

Here interestingly the sitting JD(U) candidate Sarfaraz Alam quit the party after Kumar joined hads with the BJP. He subsequently conteste and won the Lok Sabha poll in March from Araria. The RJD fielded his younger brother Shahnawaz Alam and despite Kumar’s best efforts won the seat.

Tejaswi Yadav who is leading the party as his father Lalu Yadav is in jail read in this a message for both the PM and the CM. He made it clear that the way forward was Opposition unity, and confirmed reports that the RJD was on a major comeback trail. The anger with Kumar has grown since he ditched the peoples mandate to join hands with the BJP with the popularity of RJD---as seen in Jokihat---soaring.

Interestingly in BJP ruled Uttarakhand the Congress has given the BJP a decisive run for its money in Tharali despite the use of money and political power. In fact the Congress has done well in Maharashtra with the NCP, in Punjab where it won the assembly by poll against the Akali Dal, in Karnataka where it registered a record win in RR Nagar.

The importance of these bypolls cannot be lost as it was the first test of opposition unity in states like UP, with the BJP in the reckoning in all. However, the Trinamool Congress in West Bengal, the NCP-Congress in Maharashtra, the RLD and SP backed by the BSP in Uttar Pradesh, the RJD in Bihar, the CPI(M) in Kerala, the Congress in Karnataka and Punjab have kept the BJP at bay in this crucial political chapter just before the 2019 Lok Sabha elections.