Assembly bypolls: Blunt pointers
The BJP did well in the by-elections, but the Congress managed to arrest its slide in Karnataka
By-elections are no more than pointers to the popular mood. They are not firm trend-setters for a general election. When the winners of polls in 10 Assembly constituencies in eight territories are representatives of four different parties, there is no one big lesson to be drawn from the results. Even so, these will inevitably be interpreted as indicators of the public mood, especially when four of the States, which held by-elections, are due for Assembly elections by the end of 2018. The Bharatiya Janata Party, which is sitting pretty after sweeping the elections in Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand earlier this year, did well to best the Aam Aadmi Party in Delhi, and win a seat each in Rajasthan, Himachal Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Assam. The victory in Delhi should be especially satisfying for the BJP as AAP leader, and Chief Minister, Arvind Kejriwal attempted to cast himself in a larger-than-life image, pitting himself directly against Prime Minister Narendra Modi in his campaigns and public statements. That the AAP candidate lost his deposit is a shocker: the party had won 67 of Delhi’s 70 seats in the 2015 Assembly election. As the AAP seeks to extend its reach and increase its clout, it seems to be losing out on its home turf. More than the victory in Assam, or even in Rajasthan and Himachal Pradesh, what will be more gratifying for the BJP is the second place finish in West Bengal. Its candidate was ahead of both the Left Front and Congress candidates in Kanthi Dakshin in West Bengal, an indication that the party could grow in opposition to the ruling Trinamool Congress in the years ahead. That must be truly worrying for the Communist Party of India (Marxist), which had held power in the State for a record 34 consecutive years until 2011. As the 2014 Lok Sabha election showed, the BJP is no longer a party of the Hindi belt alone, and is now national in character.
If the BJP has cause to celebrate its position at the top of the heap, the Congress can draw some comfort in having arrested its slide in Karnataka. The party won both seats in the State, beating back the challenge from the BJP, which was on the comeback trail after the return of former Chief Minister B.S. Yeddyurappa to its fold. Chief Minister Siddaramaiah, who was under pressure from sections within his own party, should get some additional breathing space till the Assembly election next year. By retaining one seat in Madhya Pradesh, the Congress has shown it cannot be written off despite having lost three successive elections to the BJP. Indeed, if there is one lesson for all parties in this round of by-elections, it is that there is still everything to fight for in the Assembly elections, whether they are to be held next year or later.