It has been more than 80 days since senior Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader and Member of Parliament (MP) Girish Bapat passed away on March 29 this year and there is still no sign from Election Commission to fill up the vacant seat. On the political front, leaders from BJP are expecting that a by-election for the Pune Lok Sabha seat is highly unlikely given that only 11 months are remaining for the Lok Sabha general elections.
Section 151A of the Representation of the People Act, 1951 mandates the Election Commission to fill the vacant seat through by-elections within six months from the date of occurrence of the vacancy. However, the same section 151 also allows EC provided to take exception if the remainder of the term of a member in relation to a vacancy is less than a year. The EC can also sidestep the statutory requirement of holding the by-election within six months if the commission in consultation with the Central government certifies that it is difficult to hold polls within the said period.
Since the term of the current Lok Sabha ends on June 16, 2024 – more than a year after Bapat passed away, it may be considered too long a wait for Pune Lok Sabha constituency to go without a by-election to elect a new MP.
At present, four more Lok Sabha seats — Chandrapur from Maharashtra, Ghazipur in Uttar Pradesh, Ambala in Punjab, and Wayanad in Kerala — are vacant. Ghazipur and Wayanad fell vacant due to the disqualification of Afzal Ansari (BSP) and Rahul Gandhi (Congress) following their conviction by a court. The Chandrapur and Ambala seats fell vacant due to the demise of Congress MP Balu Dhanorkar, and BJP MP Rattan Lal Kataria respectively.
Considering that the central poll body often clubs several pending by-elections together, keeping in view the Section 151 requirements of a six-month time frame, Pune Lok Sabha polls could have been held with others. However, with no indications so far, Pune along with other constituencies may have to wait till April-May 2024.
For political parties, bypolls serve as a significant indicator of their popularity and strength. At the same time, political parties can use bypolls to measure public sentiment and assess their support base. However, after a defeat in the Kasba Peth assembly constituency of central Pune, the BJP doesn’t want to take any chance as the seat was considered a stronghold of the party for more than three decades.
The ruling BJP understands well that the outcome of a by-election can change the perception even if it is unlikely to have an impact on the ruling government’s majority – both at the centre or in the state.
For citizens, a city with a population of around 50 lakh and does not have representation in the Lok Sabha for more than 12 months may not be a good idea. A Member of Parliament holds a very crucial position in a multi-tiered parliamentary democracy having specific roles and responsibilities, even those from the ruling party/coalition. MPs do bear the responsibility for making the laws our country is run by but more than that his/her role in the development of the constituency is crucial. Politically, the MP can also offer leadership on important issues and find a way if some of them are vexed.
Locally, Pune had been leaderless for many days. Even though Bapat was MP, his illness for months before his demise kept him inactive while another BJP leader Chandrakant Patil, who is also a guardian minister of the district, does not enjoy the same clouts as his predecessor Ajit Pawar used to enjoy. Around a decade ago when Suresh Kalmadi was the Member of Parliament from Pune, the city’s political leadership was with him and the Congressman too used it to bring large projects in the city.
In Maharashtra, Mumbai has always had firm leadership in Thackerays. For Nagpur, Nitin Gadkari and Devendra Fadnavis have their final say. In Thane, the role is with current chief minister Eknath Shinde. But for Pune, the seat is vacant.