Changing moods

The common thread that ran through the results of the recent by-elections held from Gujarat to Bihar is a reversal of the trend seen in the Lok Sabha elections. In all the states the party or the alliance that did well in the parliamentary polls fared badly in the by-elections. The BJP, whose performance in Gujarat was lacklustre in May, captured five of the seven seats, all wrested from the Congress and one of them a Congress bastion for the last 50 years. The squabbles in the BJP after the defeat does not seem to have had much impact on the voters and chief minister Narendra Modi, who had kept a low profile, is back in his provocative elements.

The BJP’s performance was a surprise after its reverses not only in the Lok Sabha elections but also in the Junagarh corporation and local co-operative body elections. Similarly, the Congress, which had swept Delhi in May, lost two assembly seats there, indicating that the sway of Sheila Dikshit is not all that invulnerable. The BSP which came third in UP in the Lok Sabha elections, has won three of the four by-elections.

The greatest upset was in Bihar where the NDA — chief minister Nitish Kumar’s JD(U) and the BJP — has been routed and Lalu Prasad’s RJD and Ramvilas Paswan’s LJP have made a comeback. The ruling alliance, which had held 13 of the 18 seats, saw its tally go down to five. Nitish Kumar, who was supposed to have emerged as the state’s undisputed leader, through better administration and a  finely balanced caste politics, may have to do some rethinking now. It is believed that the setback was caused by desertion of the JD(U) by Muslims who felt the BJP may turn more fundamentalist after the Lok Sabha defeat. Nitish cannot afford to ignore the setback,  since the state assembly elections are due next year, but he has few other options.

Complacency and overconfidence of the parties that did well in the Lok Sabha elections, wrong selection of candidates, and the spirited fightback of those that had lost, have been cited as reasons for the expectedness of the results. Voters also have different considerations when they vote for parliament and assembly elections. The Congress has a reason for worry because it has lost seven of the 17 seats it had held, and the BJP has gained. By-elections are not representative, but they provide some signals of political moods.

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