New Delhi: The electoral loss suffered by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the recent byelections in Uttar Pradesh’s Gorakhpur and Phulpur has brought the total number of seats held by the ruling party to 274 in the Lok Sabha, just two more than the required number for a simple majority.

And if the name of Speaker Sumitra Mahajan is removed from the list, the tally falls to just 273 MPs, a slender majority in the lower House of Parliament.

Further complicating the situation for the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) at the centre, five more bypolls are scheduled to take place in the near future in seats held by the NDA, which means the ruling alliance will have to defend these seats from opposition parties. The Election Commission has not announced the dates for these five bypolls.

Of these five seats, three were won by the BJP in the 2014 general election—Kairana in western Uttar Pradesh and Palghar and Bhandara-Gondiya in Maharashtra.

“The bypolls in Kairana in Uttar Pradesh will be the real test for the BJP leadership. The party has already started preparations for it. After the loss in Gorakhpur and Phulpur, Kairana will be the third bypoll where the newly formed alliance between the Samajwadi Party (SP) and the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) will contest together against BJP. Both the BJP and the opposition are going to prepare well and it will be a tough contest," said a senior BJP leader based in Lucknow.

Senior BJP leaders say the challenge for the BJP is that bypolls are not fought on the issue of development or ideology—rather, they say, the entire election is based on caste arithmetic. “BJP had worked hard to make development the central theme but we are again going back to caste politics," the BJP leader added.

The significance of these byelections can be understood from the fact that the BJP’s strength in the Lok Sabha has come down from 282 after the 2014 general elections to 274 in March 2018—a loss of eight seats to the opposition.

“Kairana will be a very tough battle for the BJP because SP and BSP will contest together. Apart from anti-incumbency, BJP used to do well because of the division of votes between SP and BSP but this new alliance will stop any division of votes. The farmers are angry and Kairana will bring the problem of rural distress to the fore," said a senior SP leader based in Lucknow.

Developments in Maharashtra are also a cause of concern to the BJP. The Congress leadership is making efforts to join hands with the Sharad Pawar-led Nationalist Congress Party (NCP). Newly appointed Congress president Rahul Gandhi has met Pawar a couple times in the past few weeks. By contrast, the BJP’s ally Shiv Sena has passed a resolution declaring it will contest both the general and assembly elections alone and not in alliance with the BJP.

The remaining two vacant seats that will witness bypolls were won by alliance partners Peoples Democratic Alliance (PDP) in Jammu and Kashmir and Naga People’s Front (NPF) in Nagaland. Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Mehbooba Mufti vacated the Anantnag seat where bypolls are due and Neiphiu Rio, having recently taken over as the new chief minister of Nagaland, has had to vacate his Lok Sabha constituency, Nagaland.

“BJP is under tremendous pressure because it is a difficult situation for them. The pressure is greater after the loss of Gorakhpur and Phulpur. These byelections have helped opposition parties regroup and formulate a strategy to counter BJP-NDA," said Badri Narayan, professor and director at the G.B. Pant Social Science Institute in Allahabad.

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