Congress stumbles

The results of the by-elections to Lok Sabha and Assembly seats held in different parts of the country are a major setback to the Congress. It lost all six seats -- two for the Lok Sabha and four for the state Assembly – to the BJP in Gujarat. All the seats had been held by the Congress and that defeat would be all the more hurtful to the party. It lost miserably to the Trinamool Congress in the Howrah Lok Sabha seat. It also came a poor third in Bihar’s Maharajganj seat where Lalu Prasad Yadav’s RJD  defeated Nitish Mumar’s JD(U). The Congress also came a poor fifth in the Handia Assembly seat in UP which the Samajwadi Party won. The only consolation for the party was in Maharashtra where it is in power. It won the lone assembly seat there defeating a BJP candidate.

But a close scrutiny of the results would show that the victors, especially in Gujarat, had some specific advantages. The most impressive victory in all the elections was for the BJP which made a clean sweep in Gujarat. It will certainly further strengthen the claim of chief minister Narendra Modi within the party for acceptance as its prime ministerial candidate. But in two of the seats it won its candidates were defectors from the Congress who had sizeable following in their constituencies. The image of Modi as a potential prime ministerial  hopeful would also have influenced the thinking of the electorate. In Bihar also the RJD candidate who won is a former JD(U) MP with good local support. But the result is still a setback for Nitish Kumar whose party had an unbroken record of victories in all by-elections in the last eight years. The fact that the seat had been held by the RJD would be poor consolation. In fact it is only in Bihar that the ruling party suffered a defeat in this set of by-elections. The Howrah victory, which came after the Trinamool Congress parted ways with the Congress, should please Mamata Banerjee, but the drastic fall in voter support should be a matter of concern.

A few by-elections held in different parts of the country in different conditions are no pointers to the national mood. But results are results, whatever the explanations, especially comprehensive ones like those in Gujarat. Though the Congress has put on a brave face, the poor performance of the party should worry it.

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