Counting of votes for the crucial Palghar and Bhandara-Gondia Lok Sabha (LS) bypolls in Maharashtra took place on 31 May.

Maharashtra Bypolls: BJP’s Win in Palghar Comes With a Caveat

The BJP won the Palghar Lok Sabha seat, while the NCP emerged victorious in the Bhandara-Gondiya parliamentary constituency in Maharashtra as votes were counted for the two bypolls held earlier this week.

The Bharatiya Janata Party retained Maharashtra's Palghar Lok Sabha seat, but with a new candidate — Rajendra Gavit. The Palghar bypoll was necessitated due to BJP MP Chintaman Wanaga’s demise. Shiv Sena had nominated Shrinivas Wanaga from the tribal constituency, while Bahujan Vikas Aghadi had nominated Baliram Jadhav. Jadhav and Congress’s Damodar Shingada were left leaning.

In Bhandara, BJP candidate Hemant Patle, who was leading in the earlier rounds of counting, fell behind Nationalist Congress Party’s Madhukar Kukde. The Bhandara-Gondiya seat fell vacant after BJP's Nana Patole tendered his resignation from the party and joined the Congress.

BJP had won both these seats with a huge margin in 2014.

While bypoll results don’t directly translate into any certain trend for the upcoming elections, it would be impossible to notice that the BJP seems to be losing its Midas touch. Along with that, there is a formidable road block in the form of a combined opposition.

Palghar: It’s All in the Numbers

In Thane’s Palghar, BJP’s Rajendra Gavit, who defected from Congress, won by 29,572 votes. Its estranged ally, in a move termed as ‘backstabbing’ by the BJP, Shiv Sena had fielded Shriniwas Wanga, son of late BJP MP Chintaman Wanga. It was the first time the Sena had directly opposed the BJP, its ally in the Maharashtra government, in any Assembly or by-election, further straining their relations.

Ultimately, the Palghar seat saw a multi-cornered contest between Rajendra Gavit (BJP), Baliram Jadhav (Bhaujan Vikas Aghadi), Shriniwas Wanaga (Shiv Sena) and Damodar Singhda (Congress).

While the BJP may have emerged victorious in Palghar, a tricky seat reserved for the STs, one key data point which makes all the difference is that the party won the same seat by 2,39,520 votes in 2014 and by 29,572 in 2018. Political observers say that increasing prices of petrol and perceived mishandling of the farm loan waiver are some of the reasons why the people chose to come out and let the BJP know that they are not satisfied with its governance in the last four years. 

Before the polls, sources in the Shiv Sena had said that Uddhav Thackeray would withdraw support from the Fadnavis government if Shrinivas Wanga won. However, with their plan to garner the sympathy vote having failed, Sena will now have to rethink its policy of aggressively opposing the BJP at every level and perhaps, even eat their own words and ally with it for the 2019 elections.

If the two parties choose to fight the general elections by themselves, the way forward for the Congress-NCP alliance will be much easier, as seen in the Bhandara-Gondiya bypolls.

Bhandara-Gondiya: Make Way for the Opposition

In Maharashtra’s Bhandara-Gondiya located in Vidarbha district, it was a fight between Congress-NCP’s Madhukar Kukde and BJP’s Hemant Patle.

Election in the seat was necessitated after the resignation of sitting BJP (MP) Nana Patole over his criticism of the BJP and Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Patole later rejoined the Congress and in alliance with NCP leader Praful Patel, campaigned for Kukde, who won by a margin of nearly 45,000 votes.

The loss here is crucial and also a prestige issue for the BJP. In the 2014 Assembly elections, when the BJP won in Maharashtra, its winning votes came from Vidarbha. Out of 68 Assembly seats in the district (Vidarbha region), BJP won 45. Union Minister Nitin Gadkari and Maharashtra CM Devendra Fadnavis also hail from this area.

After coming to power in 2014, the party had also launched several development projects here, adding all the significance to it. With Patole having resigned blaming Modi for “doing nothing for the farmers’ community in the last four years” and this loss, the BJP will have to take a step back and re-evaluate its governance policies.

To retain its hold on Maharashtra, the BJP will not only have to charm the people once again, but also keep in mind the vote bank calculations and an increasingly strong opposition.

The biggest takeaway from the Maharashtra bypolls, and elsewhere, is simple and crucial to keep in mind as 2019 approaches: If the opposition unites they win. If they are split, the BJP wins.

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