By-election results are not always pointers to the outcome of a general election. However, what Andhra Pradesh went through was not a by-election to one seat or two, but a mini-general election to 18 Assembly seats and one Lok Sabha seat. And the verdict was decisive: a sweep for the YSR Congress led by Jaganmohan Reddy, son of former Congress Chief Minister Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy. No matter how the results are read, the YSRC, which won in 15 Assembly constituencies and in the lone Parliamentary constituency, Nellore, will have to be seen as a frontline challenger to the Congress in the State in the 2014 general elections. Indeed, the results could encourage other Congress MLAs to shift allegiance to the Jagan Congress and thereby pose a threat to the very survival of the Kiran Kumar Reddy government. The Congress managed to win just two of the seats, and the Telugu Desam drew a blank. Parkal, the only constituency in the Telangana region that went to the polls, was taken by the Telangana Rashtra Samiti. Unlike the earlier sets of by-elections in the Telangana region, these were not in a geographically contiguous area. The constituencies were spread across 12 districts, some of them Congress strongholds. That the YSRC could perform well beyond YSR's home base in Kadapa district and the Rayalaseema region is surely noteworthy. Of course, a good chunk of the seats — to be specific, eight — are from this region, but the gains in Nellore, Prakasam, Guntur, West Godavari, Visakhapatnam, and Srikakulam districts demonstrate the YSRC's ability to expand its base. Moreover, in Parkal the YSRC finished a creditable second to TRS, an ominous sign for the TDP and the Congress.

Irrespective of the merits of the CBI's case against Jagan, the arrest of the YSRC leader on charges of corruption during the campaign period was, in public perception, a politically-inspired misadventure. To make matters worse, the Congress and the TDP, instead of attacking each other, chose Jagan as the prime target, unwittingly making the YSRC the frontrunner. Further, the Congress suffered the incumbency disadvantage twice over. The non-governance in the State was made worse by the hike in fuel prices and the failure of the Congress-led Centre to rein in inflation. While the YSRC still has some distance to cover before it can entertain visions of coming to power in Andhra Pradesh, the odds are stacked against the Congress. Without some corrective measures, the party will face an uphill task in 2014. Surely, the loss of Andhra Pradesh, a State which today accounts for the largest block of Congress MPs in the Lok Sabha, will have implications that go beyond the Deccan plateau.

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