2019: Game Still On, BJP Can Ignore the By-Poll Results at Its Own Peril



Previous Tally

By-Poll Tally Gains Loss




3 1 5 2


7 3 0


Regional Parties 3 4 2 1


Note: JMM and NCP considered as part of UPA. JDU, NDPP and SAD considered part of NDA.

The above table depicts the entire story of the by-poll results declared yesterday for 14 seats (4 Lok Sabha and 10 Vidhan Sabha) held across 10 states namely UP, Bihar, Maharashtra, Jharkhand, Punjab, Uttarakhand, Meghalaya, Nagaland, West Bengal and Kerala. These 10 states account for almost half of the Lok Sabha strength. BJP alone won 128 seats of its 282 tally of Lok Sabha 2014 (45%) from only three of the above states.






Bihar (including Jharkhand)






Total in 3 states



All India Total



% of Seats



Summary of By-Poll Results

  • BJP’s / NDA’s tally reduced by half
  • INC’s / UPA’s tally has nearly doubled
  • Regional parties and UPA have held onto their strength
  • Of the 14 seats, 8 seats were held by the previous parties
  • Of the 6 seats which changed hands, BJP lost the maximum (5)

MGB Poses Serious Challenge to BJP in both UP and Bihar

The string of losses for BJP continued in Uttar Pradesh. After having lost Gorakhpur and Phulpur to a united opposition just a couple of months back, BJP lost the Kairana Lok Sabha seat and Noorpur Vidhan Sabha seat to united opposition (mahagathbandhan) candidates.

BJP lost Kairana seat to RLD candidate supported by SP, BSP and Congress by a margin of 44,618 votes. The loss is even more astounding given the fact that BJP had won the seat in 2014 by a whopping margin of 2.36 lakh votes and would have even won if the Mahagathbandhan (MGB) parties would have contested together. In the by-poll while BJP’s vote share declined by 3.7%, while MGB gained vote share of 4.2%.

Kairana Vote Shares (Source: ECI, http://www.politicalbaba.com)

In Noorpur, BJP candidate lost to SP candidate backed by opposition by a margin of 5,662 votes. In the state elections held last year BJP had won the seat by a margin of over 12,000 votes. However, BJP benefitted from a fractured opposition in last year’s state elections as the graph shows. If MGB parties had contested together in 2017 their vote share would have been much higher at 56.4% and BJP would not have managed to win the seat. In the by-poll while BJP managed to increase its vote share by 8.7%, the sheer power of the arithmetic of MGB helped it to sail through despite losing 5.6% vote share.

Noorpur Vote Shares (Source: ECI, http://www.politicalbaba.com)


The index of chemistry of opposition is very high at 90% (vote share in by-poll divided by vote share in state polls had they contested together, 50.8% divided by 56.4%). This indicates that SP, BSP and RLD have been able to transfer their votes to each other candidates’ with minimum leakages (-10%). This is a very good index of chemistry implying the vote banks are in harmony with each other. MGB in Bihar which trounced Modi in 2015 had similarly high index at 93%.  Generally, anything above 85% is very good in my opinion. MGB in UP has both the arithmetic and the chemistry as of now. It has also displayed the ability of taking back its vote segments of Jats and Dalits which had veered to BJP in 2014 and 2017. In 2014 NDA secured 43.6% and MGB (if it had contested together) 50.5%. Even at 86-87% index of chemistry and 12-13% translation loss, it could pose serious challenge to BJP in 2019.

In Bihar’s Jokihat assembly seat, RJD defeated JDU by a huge margin of 41,225 votes. Both parties had put up minority community candidates. The votes received by the JDU candidate (40,015) were even lower than the margin, such was the magnitude of victory. The seat was held by JDU since 2005. After Nitish joined back NDA parting ways with Lalu, this is the 3rd by-poll which RJD has won. It spells warning bells for BJP in Bihar where it along with allies won 31 / 40 seats in 2014. The sushashan babu, Nitish, who is now Chief Minister for 15+ years, is facing natural anti-incumbency and Tejaswi Yadav is posing serious challenge. Nitish used to enjoy good minority support but that is seen gripping away after he joined hands with Modi.

In Jharkhand, regional satrap Shibu Soren’s JMM which is with UPA is still going strong as it held onto the 2 seats of Silli and Gomia it had won in 2014 state polls.

A MGB in the making in Maharashtra

BJP managed to hold onto the Palghar seat in a bitter contest with its estranged ally Shiv Sena which finished runner up. Uddhav Thackeray even alleged irregularities and requested EC for recounting of votes. While BJP candidate polled 32%, Shiv Sena candidate recorded 29% vote share. BJP benefitted from a split of votes. If Congress would have not contested the seat, and reciprocated Shiv Sena’s gesture of not putting up a candidate in Bhandara-Gondiya, BJP would have lost the seat by 18,000 votes. NCP snatched the Bhandara seat from BJP by 48,000 votes helped by BJP support. BJP had won the seat in 2014 by a big margin of 1.49 lakh votes. BJP lost vote shares in both seats compared to last elections.


2014 LS

2018 By-Poll

Inc / Dec

Palghar (LS)




Bhandara-Gondiya (LS)




The ties between Shiv Sena and BJP are at rock bottom and the by-poll results will further increase the distance between the two. A MGB of sorts of INC, NCP and Shiv Sena is in the making in Maharashtra, which could shake the state politics forever. If the three parties forge an alliance the sheer arithmetic would damage BJP severely. INC+SHS+NCP vote share in 2014 at 55.2% is double that of BJP at 27.6%. BJP would hope Shiv Sena contests independently making it a three way fight. Even in that case as per my calculations BJP would lose 4 seats. However, that takes out 23 seats from NDA tally of 2014, that’s huge.

These three states of UP, Bihar and Maharashtra hold the keys to government formation in 2019. Opposition unity is sealed in UP and Bihar. If Shiv Sena, switches sides, then even Maharashtra would see one to one contests.

Regional Parties Hold Fort

TMC retained the lone seat in West Bengal (Maheshtala), while CPM retained the Chennagur seat in Kerala. SP and RLD made dent into BJP stronghold of UP as discussed above.

2019 The Bigger Picture

Going purely by the by-poll trends, BJP could face reversals in three big states of UP, Bihar and MH where it bagged 45% of its seats in 2014. Merely wishing away the results as one-off and blaming it on local factors won’t help the party. It needs to acknowledge serious threat to its 2019 bid for power.

The silver lining for BJP is that it has emerged as the second largest party in West Bengal ahead of CPM. It’s Nagaland parliamentary seat win has further consolidated its position as the number one party in North East. However, Mamata is still strongest by far in Bengal and North East is a small territory and has much fewer seats for it to compensate for the losses. It needs to make a big dent in Odisha and kiss and make up with Shiv Sena in Maharashtra. Modi has to intervene and prevent Sena from joining hands with UPA. Shah’s arm twisting tactics and high handedness won’t work.

In UP, it all boils down to seat by seat contest. It will be a DMY (Dalits + Muslims + Yadavs) versus UCOBC (Upper Caste + Other Backward Caste) contest. What makes it interesting is that both these anchor vote blocks of UPA and NDA respectively account for 50% of population each. The good part for BJP is that opposition has played its cards too early leaving ample time for the party to formulate a strategy to counter MGB.

The game for 2019 is still on. While opposition is hoping arithmetic and chemistry will work in its favour, BJP is banking on ‘sahi niyat’ and Modi jadoo. Brace yourself for a roller coaster ride till the results!

(This article was first published in TheQuint).



  1. BJP versus united Opposition

    Kairana has shown yet again that the mighty BJP can be humbled if the entire Opposition comes together. The Opposition-BJP fight doesn’t necessarily become a David-versus-Goliath contest if the entire Opposition were to take on the BJP together and that too in a pre-poll alliance format.

    The Opposition demonstrated it recently in Gorakhpur and Phulpur Lok Sabha by-polls — seats vacated by chief minister Yogi Adityanath and deputy chief minister Keshav Maurya respectively — when it wrested these seats from the BJP.

    Kairana marks a hat-trick of Lok Sabha by-poll losses for the BJP and that too in a politically significant state like Uttar Pradesh where the BJP stunned everyone last year winning 322 of 403 seats or over a three-fourth majority on its own in Assembly elections.

    After the Gorakhpur-Phulpur loss, Adityanath had said that the party workers were overconfident and took these elections lightly and had assured the central leadership that this won’t be repeated in future.

    Yet, history repeated itself so soon for the high-profile CM, who has emerged as the second best poster boy of the party after prime minister Narendra Modi for election campaigns across the country. In this respect, Karnataka Assembly polls proved to be a watershed moment in contemporary politics.


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