While the BJP has made a mark in new political territories like the North-East, there are signs of slippage, and even setbacks, in states where it is well established and has run governments for many years. The Gujarat assembly elections gave a scare to the party last year, and the defeats in three by-elections in Rajasthan that came later showed that there may be a threat developing for the party in that state, too. Now, the results of by-elections held in Madhya Pradesh and Odisha last week also do not give any comfort to the party. The Congress retained the two seats in Madhya Pradesh - Mungaoli and Kolaras - and the ruling BJD won the Bijepur seat in Odisha. The by-elections were considered important as indicators of the political mood in the states. Madhya Pradesh will have assembly elections later in the year, and in Odisha, the BJP is seen to be posing a challenge to the ruling Biju Janata Dal (BJD) led by Naveen Patnaik.
The two seats in Madhya Pradesh had been held by the Congress and the by-elections were caused by the death of the sitting legislators. So, the Congress only retained the seats it had held. The two seats are also part of the Guna Lok Sabha constituency, which is held by Congress leader Jyotiraditya Scindia. But the Congress victory in the two seats is significant because the government of Shivraj Singh Chauhan and the BJP had made special efforts to wrest the two seats from Congress. Indeed, Chauhan's entire cabinet had camped in the two constituencies during the campaign. The idea was that winning the two seats would send a positive signal and give a boost to the party which, it is felt, might not find the going easy in the coming assembly elections. In Bijepur also, the BJP campaigned hard to beat the BJD and make a winning point, as the party wants to seriously challenge the BJD in next year's assembly elections. It had won the civic elections in the district recently. But the BJD secured 57% votes and a huge margin of 41,000 votes. The BJD has thus sent out a message that its hold on the state is still strong.
That is why these by-elections would serve as a warning to the BJP, coming as they did after the signals from Gujarat and Rajasthan. After all, these are states where politics is played and seen on a larger canvass than in the North-East. And these states, barring Odisha, are the BJP's traditional Hindutva/Hindi/cow-belt bastions. Any loss in these states is not just embarrassing for the party, but would impact its ability to come back to power at the Centre in 2019.