Well, of course the results of parliamentary and state elections tell us different stories from those of Assembly bypolls. But they tell us a story nevertheless. The narrative from the byelections held in Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh and Uttarakhand is that of a silver lining in the dark cloud that has been hanging above the BJP’s head since the general elections nearly six months ago. To consider the impressive show in these bypolls as anything less than a shot in the arm for the suffering, dishevelled party would be to be in denial. To consider the results to be a full-blown resurgence would also be delusional. But the victories are important not only in rebuilding a perception about the capabilities of the BJP’s state units — precious ingredients for the main dish at the Centre — for the party’s traditional supporters, but also to demoralised partymen who now find that hope springs from below.
Unlike the Lok Sabha polls, the bypolls have localised issues at stake. So while the BJP may be running about like a headless chicken in New Delhi, the fact that local units are up and running and have received a mandate even in traditional Congress camps should send out a message. It is the Gujarat results, of course, that will upset the Congress the most. The fact that Chief Minister Narendra Modi can be effortlessly turned into one of the main causes of the BJP’s defeat — as was the case in the parliamentary elections — has been overturned. The issue, however, is not whether Mr Modi has cast his ‘Hindutva magic spell’ once again or whether the Ishrat Jahan encounter debate played into the hands of the BJP in the polling states. All that talk about whether Mr Modi will make it to prime ministership is even less relevant. What is relevant, however, is that Mr Modi along with the state BJP leaders in Madhya Pradesh and Uttarakhand have allowed a strong party architecture to be intact. Voting in bypolls is overwhelmingly about how a party’s work has affected him rather than about more abstract issues. And here it seems that the BJP still has much to offer.
The Congress should learn from this setback. But more importantly the BJP at the Centre should be furiously taking notes. Lok Sabha and assembly polls are different ballgames. But the basic norm of ‘customer satisfaction’ of the bypolls can only be emulated, rather than replicated, for the bigger electoral stakes by both national parties in the more nebulous Assembly elections in Maharashtra, Haryana and Arunachal Pradesh next month.