The outcome of the by-elections in six assembly seats and four Lok Sabha seats has led to some predictable chest-thumping by the winners and laboured explanations by the losers. Though it would not be prudent to extrapolate the political trends in a few pockets to the vast expanse of India, the emerging signals are noteworthy as general elections are less than a year away.
Gujarat chief minister and PM aspirant Narendra Modi was quick to interpret the victory of the BJP in four assembly and two Lok Sabha seats in the state as a message to the UPA that its days were numbered. In Bihar, RJD chief Lalu Prasad said the emphatic victory of his candidate in Maharajganj signaled the beginning of the end of his archrival, chief minister Nitish Kumar. West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee interpreted her party’s narrow victory in Howrah Lok Sabha seat as a popular endorsement of her decision to keep equidistant from both national parties, the Congress and the BJP.
Though the Congress, which held all the six seats in Gujarat before the by-elections, said the setback did not amount to any national trend, one cannot overlook an undercurrent that is largely against the ruling party.
More upsettingly for the Congress, this undercurrent is also turning out to be a sentiment in favour of the BJP, as indicated in a recent national survey carried out by this newspaper. Modi is sparing no effort to catapult himself as the true torchbearer of this anti-incumbency, despite the resistance from within the BJP to his coronation as the prime ministerial candidate.
The defeat of Nitish Kumar’s candidate in the lone seat in Bihar that went to polls is also significant for the BJP. The seat was held by the RJD earlier too, but the massive scale of its victory this time indicates a galvanisation of anti-Nitish social forces in the state.
This sudden bolt has already forced Kumar to soften his stand towards the BJP, declaring that his alliance with the saffron party is intact. In the event of the BJP getting resurgent and his own support base appearing shaky, Kumar would be cautious in his further moves.
The by-poll results are encouraging for the BJP and discouraging for the Congress, though not alarming. The next one year will see a lot of posturing by parties to woo particular electoral groups and hard bargaining among potential allies. The process of realignment of social forces has only begun now. The Congress will need to quickly gather its wits and fight back to stay in the game. For the BJP, the game is about keeping itself together.