All eyes are on the results of the bypolls to two Lok Sabha seats in Uttar Pradesh, and on Lok Sabha and two Assembly constituencies in Bihar, which are set to come out on Wednesday. The bypolls are being seen as mini battles that will reflect the mood of voters ahead of the Lok Sabha elections scheduled for 2018.
The Gorakhpur and Phulpur Lok Sabha constituencies in UP are up for grabs. The contests to these two seats are being seen as a barometer to how the BJP may perform here in 2019. The party had won a crushing 71 of the 80 seats in 2014, and had followed that up with an even wider whitewash in the 2017 Assembly polls.
The bypolls in UP will also hold lessons for the opposition parties. The Samajwadi Party (SP) and Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), who have been arch rivals for the better part of the last two decades, have come together after 25 years to try and stop the BJP election juggernaut. If they win either of the seats, and even if they give hot chase to the BJP, it could be a key factor in stitching together an anti-BJP front for 2019.
The BJP is fielding Upendra Dutt Shukla former Varanasi Mayor Kaushalendra Patel in Gorakhpur and Phulpur. The Gorakhpur seat has been vacant since Yogi Adityanath resigned in 2017 to take over as Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister. The Phulpur seat has also been vacant from the same time, when Keshav Prasad Maurya left to take charge as Deputy Chief Minister.
The bypolls to three Assembly constituencies in Bihar on the other hand are perceived as important shows of electoral performance for the two main leaders of the hour - Chief Minister Nitish Kumar and RJD leader Tejashwi Yadav. The contests are being touted as a referendum for Nitish on the grounds that he resumed his alliance with the BJP after obtaining his mandate with the RJD and Congress.
RJD leader Tejashwi has hit hard, terming Nitish's decision to go back to the BJP a betrayal of the people, who voted the JDU-RJD-Congress Mahaghatbandhan to power in 2015. The contests will also be a key test for Tejashwi, who is leading the RJD in the absence of his father Lalu Prasad, who is serving a prison sentence for graft in the fodder scam.
Two of the seats that are up for grabs fell vacant due to the deaths of their RJD holders - Mundrika Singh Yadav in Jehanabad and Mohd Taslimuddin in Araria. The Bhabua seat has been unoccupied since the death of BJP's Anand Bhushan Pandey.
The RJD has chosen to stay the family way in the Araria Lok Sabha and Jehanabad Assembly constituencies, having given the tickets the sons of the leaders who died. It has fielded Sarfaraz Alam against BJP's Pradip Singh in Araria, and Uday Yadav against JDU's Abhiram Sharma in Jehanabad.
The BJP too made a similar choice in Bhabua, giving its ticket to Rinki Rani Pandey, the widow of Anand Bhushan Pandey. She will be looking to hold off the challenge from Congress's Shambhu Patel.