By-elections in India: A Phenomenon worth Observing



It won’t be an exaggeration to say that most by-elections in India either pass unnoticed or they are sidelined by the charisma of general elections. The events building up to by-elections are reported within limited news space and only a particular constituency exudes interest in the proceedings. You must be feeling that I am directing my rants at those who ignore by-election trends. But honestly, all I seek is a little less indifference towards this format of elections. By-elections tell us a lot about the wider political canvas.

What is by poll election in India and why by-elections are held

Allow me to give you a brief overview of why and how by-elections are held. Just to remind you, by-election is held with a definite purpose, which is to fill a political office that has become vacant. A member of a legislative assembly often leaves his position vacant on various grounds, especially when he/she becomes inept. It could be the person’s untimely death or a criminal conviction, which makes him ineligible to continue in office.

In a democracy like India, where political verdicts are people-driven and unpredictability is the norm, by-elections are a necessary enabler for restoring stability. You don’t have to force yourself hard to remember instances wherein by-elections were called because of voting irregularities and myriad other reasons. These elections occur between regularly scheduled elections and give people the opportunity to redeem their situation. If a state has suffered in the hands of an incompetent government in the first phase, it can get back its pie of prosperity by bringing a better alternative to the forefront.

By-elections have become a commonality in India, partly because of the misuse of provision of a law under the Representation of the People Act that allows a candidate to contest elections from two constituencies. When the candidate wins from both the constituencies, he/she has to vacate one of the seats. This triggers by-election as one of the seats that is rendered vacant. Prominent politicians such as Mulayam Singh and Narendra Modi seem to be all set to contest from two constituencies during the upcoming Lok Sabha polls.

India has also witnessed several by-elections after an individual decides to shift allegiance and switch party. A very latest example could be seen in Gujarat where seven seats fell vacant after Congress MLAs switched sides and joined BJP. The by-polls for the seven assembly seats will be held on April 30.

If we go back to 2011, we have another classic instance of by-elections to behold. Trinamool Congress came to power in West Bengal after ending the Left domination of over three decades. At that time, Mamata Banerjee was still an MP in the Lok Sabha. It was mandatory for her to become a member of the state legislature to bag the position of a Chief Minister. One of the MLAs from Bengal had to step down to let her contest from that constituency. This led to a by-election.  Simultaneously, after she stepped down from her position as a member of Lok Sabha, the Kolkata (South) parliamentary constituency fell vacant, and this again called for a by-election.

This format of the election in India comes with a tinge of surprise and a whole lot of changes in the political landscape. It surely makes for a fascinating case study.

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