The latest round of by-elections to Assembly seats will be remembered for the success of a political experiment in Bihar involving the coming together of three parties against the Bharatiya Janata Party. The results significantly moderate the idea that the BJP is at an electorally invulnerable point in its history. The Rashtriya Janata Dal, the Janata Dal (United) and the Congress have together won six of the 10 seats that saw by-polls. The BJP with its allies had swept Bihar in the recent Lok Sabha election, bagging 31 of the 40 seats. It is not in itself a surprise that parties gain from tactical tie-ups that give them the arithmetical heft that their individual stature may not fetch. However, the three parties seemed to have done some strategic thinking in bringing together their combined vote base drawn from among Yadavs, other backward classes, Dalits and Muslims and successfully presented a ‘grand secular alliance’. It has given room for these parties to claim it as a victory over ‘divisive forces’. The takeaway from the combine’s performance is that doubts whether it would work on the ground have been dispelled. These doubts arose because of the long history of political rivalry between JD(U) leader and former Chief Minister Nitish Kumar and RJD president Lalu Prasad. The BJP’s State leadership has accepted responsibility for winning only four seats, lest it be seen as a reflection on Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s performance at the Centre. At the same time, it cannot be denied that the BJP had beaten alliance arithmetic in the four seats it has won. The results indicate how the battle lines will be drawn when Assembly elections are held in Bihar in 2015.
Karnataka is another State where the Congress’ performance will give the party considerable satisfaction, as it managed to wrest the Bellary Rural seat from the BJP with a handsome margin of over 33,000 votes. While retaining its seat at Chikkodi-Sadalga, the Congress managed to make inroads into Shikaripura, where former Chief Minister B.S. Yeddyurappa’s son B.Y. Raghavendra managed to win with a relatively narrow margin of 6,430 votes. This should come as a boost for Chief Minister Siddaramaiah, who faces some dissidence and is under pressure from several quarters for Cabinet posts. The BJP’s performance in Madhya Pradesh, winning two out of three seats in this round, has been mixed. It retained one constituency, Agar, while wresting Vijaraghavgarh from the Congress. The Congress wrested the Bahoriband seat from its rival. In Punjab, the Akali Dal seems to have beaten back anti-incumbency sentiment to some extent by wresting the Talwandi Sabo seat from the Congress by a big margin. The Congress retained the Patiala Urban seat.