Votes are being counted for key by-elections to two parliament seats in Uttar Pradesh and a parliament seat and two assembly seats in Bihar. In UP, regional heavyweights and arch rivals Samajwadi Party and Mayawati's Bahujan Samaj Party have pooled resources to try and snatch the Gorakhpur and Phulpur seats away from the ruling BJP. It is an experiment seen to test the ground for a larger alliance in the 2019 national election.
In Bihar, the by-elections are seen as a referendum on Chief Minister Nitish Kumar's decision to dump Lalu Yadav and the Congress to partner with the BJP.dge In Phulpur In UP Bypolls
In Bihar's Bhabua assembly seat, the BJP is leading. The seat was vacated by the death last year of the BJP's Anand Bhushan Pandey, and the party has fielded his wife Rinki Rani Pandey. The RJD is leading in the Jehanabad assembly seat, held by the party.
It is a prestige battle for the BJP in UP. Gorakhpur is the seat that Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath held for five terms. He vacated it last year after becoming chief minister, following the BJP's sweep of the 2017 assembly elections, capturing 325 of the 403 assembly seat along with allies. Phulpur was vacated by his deputy Keshav Prasad Maurya.Yogi Adityanath campaigned hard in both constituencies and described the by-elections as a dress rehearsal for the general election next year. "Our victory margins will be as big as in 2014," he told NDTV. There was 47 per cent polling in Gorakhpur last week, and 38 per cent in Phulpur.
In both seats, the Samajwadi Party is the BJP's main challenger, with the BSP offering support in a rare deal that includes the Samajwadi Party's support for the BSP in Rajya Sabha elections in UP later this month. "If we win, there will be a bigger alliance," promised Pravin Nishad, fielded by the Samajwadi Party in Gorakhpur.
Mayawati, seen as the Dalit powerhouse in the state, has not fielded a candidate. Her workers have asked the sizeable Dalit community to vote for the Samajwadi candidates, though she has not committed to a bigger partnership, waiting to see how the experiment works. The present arrangement, she has insisted, is an "agreement" not an "alliance."
Both the Samajwadi Party and the BSP attended a dinner party hosted by the Congress' Sonia Gandhi in Delhi last night, seen as an attempt to consolidate opposition unity ahead of the 2019 national election. In the UP by-elections however, the Congress has fielded its own candidates.
In Bihar, veteran politician Lalu Yadav's party the RJD is fighting to retain the Araria Lok Sabha seat and the Jehanabad assembly seat; Bhabhua was held by the BJP. With Lalu Yadav in jail in a corruption case, his son Tejashwi Yadav fronted the RJD's campaign and these elections are seen to test his leadership.
This is also the first big test for Chief Minister Nitish Kumar after he swapped partners in September last year. The RJD has accused Mr Kumar of backstabbing voters who chose the Grand Alliance of the RJD, Nitush Kumar's Janata Dal (United) and the Congress in 2015. Nitish Kumar defended his decision while campaigning, stating that he allied with the BJP in the interest of the state.
In Gorakhpur, the BJP's Upendra Dutt Shukla takes on Pravin Nishad, backed by the Samajwadi Party, while in Phulpur, once represented by former Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, it is Kaushalendra Patel of the BJP versus Nagendra Pratap Singh Patel of the Samajwadi Party.
In Bihar, the Araria seat fell vacant due to the death of RJD strongman Mohd Taslimuddin, who wrested the seat from the BJP's Pradip Singh in 2014. Pradip Singh is contesting this time and takes on Mohd Taslimuddin's son Sarfaraz Alam. The RJD is eyeing a chunk of the Muslim-Yadav voters who make up more than half the electorate.
The Jehanabad and Bhabua assembly seats were vacated by the death of sitting MLAs. In Jehanabad, the RJD has fielded Uday Yadav, son of its lawmaker who died, and he takes on the JD (U)'s Abhiram Sharma who had won the seat in 2010 when his party was an ally of the BJP.