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Warning Signals

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Bypolls are usually won by parties comfortably in power. However, any departures from this norm are warning signals for the ruling dispensation that there are undercurrents needing to be addressed. Opposition parties in particular try and make such contests ‘referendums’ on some ‘burning’ issue of that time in the attempt not just to win but also to send the message that the government has failed.

So, despite supposedly being Samajwadi Party strongholds, the Lok Sabha seats of Azamgarh and Rampur were won by the BJP – the low turnout itself indicated that voters were not too interested in rocking the boat. The seven assembly seats up for grabs went to the ruling parties of the respective states.

However, the victory of the notorious Khalistan backer, Simranjeet Singh Mann, from the Sangrur Lok Sabha seat, which was previously held and vacated by none other than incumbent CM Bhagwant Mann, reflects the current state of affairs in Punjab. The ruling Aam Aadmi Party’s roots are very shallow in that state and its victory in the assembly elections was more due to public disenchantment with the Congress and Shiromani Akali Dal than with anything that AAP had to offer. AAP has pandered to the worst elements and sentiments ever since it entered the fray. This may have brought it votes from the disgruntled sections, but it has also boosted the anti-national groups that have operated under the surface largely on the strength of funding from foreign sources. The new generation in the state, which was not witness to the worst days of the Khalistan movement, and has been brought up on romanticised narratives about it, does not know the dangers it is inviting by supporting the cause. The Central and State security agencies need to immediately adopt a strategy to counter this rising tide. The Aam Aadmi Party, too, needs to understand its folly and tone down the blind populism that it recklessly indulges in just to win elections.

The message for the Samajwadi Party is clear in UP – the feudal call for caste and Muslim votes is largely outdated. These factors may still work to some extent but the party ideology has to be updated so that it meets the people’s everyday aspirations. One positive indicator has been the votes gathered by the BSP in Azamgarh, which indicate its support base counts and is capable of changing the equations.