Sometimes, the loss of one seat can hurt a lot more than the loss of 10 seats. In Andhra Pradesh, the Congress drew a blank in the latest round of byelections, losing all seven seats. But more significant than the six seats it surrendered in the Telangana region was the loss of Kovur in coastal Andhra to the YSR Congress led by Jaganmohan Reddy. For the Congress, this is a clear warning of things to come. The ruling party has been ceding ground to the breakaway faction and Jagan can no longer be dismissed as a pretender. The next round of byelections will be for 17 seats vacated by his supporters, 16 of whom were disqualified by the Speaker for voting against the confidence motion in December last. If the battle for Kovur is any indication, the Congress will have a tough time keeping the YSR Congress at bay. As for the six seats in the Telangana region where elections were held on March 18, the Congress had written them off. Except in Mahbubnagar, where the votes were polarised on communal lines, the statehood sentiment pushed all other issues to the background. Not surprisingly, the Telangana Rashtra Samiti, which supports a separate Telangana, won four of the seats.
But the byelections were not a complete disaster for the Congress. Indeed, overall, it fared better than the BJP, its principal national rival. In the Piravom Assembly constituency in Kerala, the Kerala Congress (Jacob), a constituent of the Congress-led United Democratic Front, won, allowing Chief Minister Oommen Chandy, surviving on a wafer-thin majority, to breathe easy. An even more creditworthy victory for the Congress was in Gujarat where the party beat back Narendra Modi's BJP in Mansa. Significantly, Mr. Modi had raised the stakes in the seat, personally campaigning for his party candidate. Also, the Chief Minister's high-profile sadbhavana fast last year was staged within this constituency. The victory will at least serve as a morale booster for the Congress in a State where Assembly elections are due year end. In Karnataka, similarly, the victory in the Lok Sabha byelection in Udupi-Chikmagalur was doubly sweet for the Congress as the loser was the BJP. That the seat was earlier held by Chief Minister Sadananda Gowda added to the flavour. Elsewhere, in Sankarankoil in Tamil Nadu and Athgarh in Odisha, the ruling parties won. The AIADMK and the Biju Janata Dal ensured that the current round of byelections belonged to the regional parties. Looking for one underlying theme in the results of 12 byelections in six States is meaningless, but, quite unmistakably, regional forces are gathering strength. And, the Congress's losses are unlikely to translate into the BJP's gains.