The Big Story: Window of opportunity

On Thursday, results were declared for the bye-elections in four Lok Sabha and nine Assembly seats across 10 states. The outcome should give the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party some cause for concern about the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. The party managed to win out two out of the 13 bye-polls: a Lok Sabha election in Palgarh in Maharashtra and an Assembly seat in Uttarakhand’s Tharali.

The BJP has been a veritable juggernaut since 2014, when Narendra Modi swept to power in the Lok Sabha elections. That year, the BJP was in government – either on its own or in an alliance – in seven states. In 2018, that number has grown by three times to 21.

Yet, the past few months have seen its pace slacken. In the 2017 Gujarat Assembly elections, the party just about managed to edge past the halfway mark. In March, the saffron party lost two Lok Sabha bye-elections in Gorakhpur and Phulpur in Uttar Pradesh. In the Karnataka assembly elections a fortnight ago, the BJP fell by the wayside as the Congress and the Janata Dal (Secular) came together in a hurried post-poll alliance to form the government.

These reverses for the BJP open up new options in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. For one, it is clear that a large victory for the BJP – highly probable a year back – is less certain now. The other take away is a clear template for the Opposition: it must build alliances and focus on economic distress.

The Kairana bye-poll, the results of which were announced on Thursday, is especially instructive here. It is located in western Uttar Pradesh, where Hindutva has firmly held sway ever since the 2013 Jat-Muslim riots. In 2014, the BJP had won this seat by more than 2 lakh votes. Yet, it lost this bye-poll. The BJP did not do particularly badly per se, experiencing only a small dip in vote share. What swung the election was the combined Opposition: the Rashtriya Lok Dal, the Samajwadi Party, the Bahuja Samaj Party and the Congress put up a joint candidate. This was in many ways similar to the Karnataka Assembly election, where the BJP had actually increased its vote share significantly compared to the previous election but has been outwitted by a united Opposition.

To add to this, the BJP’s attempts to polarise the electorate by launching a campaign against a portrait of Jinnah that has long hung in Aligarh Muslim University came to naught. In fact, rather than skirt the provocation, the Rashtriya Lok Dal took it on directly, with the slogan “Jinnah ya ganna”, urging voters to consider whether a debate about Jinnah was really more important than the state of the sugarcane economy on which many of them depend.

Of course, Opposition unity will not be easy, given the disparate aims and agendas of the various parties that will have to pull together. Add to that the fact that the BJP is still a strong player and Modi is still, by some distance, the country’s most popular politician.


  • The question before Pakistan is whether the caretaker prime minister can maintain his writ over the judiciary and the military, writes S Akbar Zaidi in the Hindu.
  • As Prime Minister Narendra Modi completes four years in office this month, it is becoming increasingly clear that his government has fallen short on the promises made during the 2014 election campaign, writes Puja Mehra for the Hindu Centre for Public Policy. The economy has performed below expectations, and some of the economic metrics today are weaker than those the country witnessed in the last years of the second term of Manmohan Singh government  – labelled as its “policy paralysis” phase.
  • Preserving India’s languages is difficult but possible, writes Varun Gandhi in the Times of India.


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India’s top universities can now offer full degree programmes online – but there are reservations about their effectiveness, reports Shrey Roy Chowdhury:

“But experts in online and distance education are not so sure. They pointed out that online education demands investment – in software and staff – that public universities, which are short of staffed and funds, might not be able to make. So far, most universities offered only certificate or diploma courses, generally to students who had already graduated from regular institutions or were employed. The experts also cast doubts on the quality of the online degree programmes.

The biggest sticking point is examinations. The regulations allow for ‘proctored examinations’, which a University Grants Commission official explained means an invigilator will be present in the examination hall or be watching remotely through video cameras.”