Conventional wisdom has it that elections held in close proximity will yield similar results. Yet only four months after the 15th Lok Sabha election, the trend seems to have been broken, judging from the outcomes of the recent series of Assembly by-elections. In Uttar Pradesh, the ruling Bahujan Samaj Party finished in the third spot — behind the Congress — in the general election. In Gujarat, the Narendra Modi-led Bharatiya Janata Party fell way behind its claim that it would take all the 26 Lok Sabha seats. Both parties turned in superlative performances in the Assembly by-elections, forcing analysts to recognise the resilience of Chief Ministers Mayawati and Narendra Modi. In Bihar and Delhi too, the by-election results have taken a path diametrically opposed to what was witnessed in the Lok Sabha contest. The Janata Dal(United)-BJP alliance captured 32 of 40 Lok Sabha seats in Bihar while the Congress’s score in Delhi was a perfect seven. The victories added to the already considerable reputations of Chief Ministers Nitish Kumar and Sheila Dixit. By contrast, the JD(U)-BJP alliance could win only five of the 18 Assembly seats that figured in the by-elections. In Delhi, the Congress lost both Assembly seats for which by-elections were held. Undoubtedly, the results have dented the support bases of the two State satraps.
Mr. Kumar not only vanquished Lalu Prasad’s Rashtriya Janata Dal in the general election; he was also the undisputed driver of the JD(U)-BJP alliance. Both equations have gone for a toss following the by-elections. While the JD(U) could retain merely three of the 10 seats it held, the BJP retained two of the three seats it held. More worryingly for Mr. Kumar, the elections have revived arch enemy Lalu Prasad, who was blithely seen as a spent force following his crushing defeat in the Lok Sabha election. The RJD won six seats while alliance partner Lok Janshakti Party bagged three. Of course, Mr. Prasad typically overstated his case when he claimed that the results portended Mr. Kumar’s exit in the 2010 Assembly election. By-elections are often decided on local factors that do not necessarily have a bearing on a larger election. The BSP won an overwhelming majority of by-elections ahead of the Lok Sabha polls in Uttar Pradesh, yet crucially failed to consolidate its gains. That said, a warning must be sounded for the Congress, which has emerged the worst from the by-elections. It did not live up to the promise it showed in U.P; it squandered the advantage it had in Gujarat; and it has suffered a setback in Delhi, which it had begun to regard as an impregnable fortress. The party would do well to treat this as a wake-up call.