Dismal performance of Congress in by-poll should be cause of concern for party

Disquiet is bound to be felt in the Indian National Congress’ camp at the near wipeout of the party in the by-elections held for 57 seats across 11 states. Its dismal performance in Bihar— victory in19 of the 70 seats it was allotted by the Gatbandhan (RJD+Congress alliance)—is also likely to weaken the party’s bargaining capacity with its regional secular allies in the Hindi States. The BJP has all the reason for being jubilant at the outcome as it won 40 of the 59 seats up for the grabs, most of them were held either by its principal rival Congress or the regional parties.

By-elections across 11 States

No. of seats59
Congress 12
NDPP                         01 (BJP ally in Nagaland)
Samajwadi Party        01 (In Uttar Pradesh)
Biju Janta Dal           02 (In Odisha)
JMM                                  01 (in Jharkhand)
Independent               02 (One each in Manipur and Nagaland)

By-elections are certainly no barometer to measure a political party’s popularity as voters tend to favour those already in the saddle of power. But the Congress’s current poor performance comes with a bleak note from Bihar where the party has registered a heavy downswing in its fortunes in comparison to its ally the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) which had been more than gratuitously bounteous in accommodating its electoral partner’s more than reasonable demand for seats. Last time in 2015, the Congress had won 27 seats of the 41 seats allotted under its quota from Mahagatbandhan (MGB), which then also included Janata Dal United.

But a look away from Bihar also does not offer any cheer for the grand old party of the Nehrus and Gandhis. The best it could perform was in Madhya Pradesh where it could win nine of the 28 for which by-elections were held. But even the nine wins should not be enough of a solace as all the 28 seats were won by the Congress two years ago. It were defections engineered by the BJP that caused resignations by these MLAs thereby causing downfall of the Kamalnath Government.

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Next comes Gujarat where all the eight seats vacated by former Congress MLAs under the defection plan have been wrested by the BJP, although without the change of the faces. In Uttar Pradesh there is no material change in situation as the BJP and the Samajwadi Party (SP) retained six and one seats they had won during the 2017 Assembly elections. Yet dissatisfaction is bound to be high as Yogi Adityanath’s government had been bungling all through its tenure and the rivals could draw no political mileage from it. BJP’s performance is therefore no less than impressive.

In Manipur, the BJP bagged four (Wangoi, Singhat, Wagjing Tentha and Saitu) of the five seats that went to polls. The Lilong seat however was won by an independent candidate Y. Antas Khan defeating another independent candidate Abdul Nasir. Lilong is a Muslim dominated constituency. In the neighbouring Nagaland, of the two seats, the BJP ally NDPP has bagged the Pungro Kphiri seat while the South Angami seat was claimed by an independent.

Jharkhand is the lone state where BJP’s score remained nil. Of the two seats for which by-elections were held, the Congress and the JMM shared one each. In Haryana, a BJP-ruled state, the Congress can thank its stars for retaining the lone Baroda seat. Same is for the Chhattisgarh where the Congress retained its Marwahi seat.

In the southern state of Karnataka, both non-BJP seats were wrested by the BJP from Congress and the JDS. The sense of loss for Telengana Rashtra Samiti (TRS) should be no less as it conceded its Dubbak seat to the BJP, although by a narrow margin of 1,079 votes. In Odisha, the ruling BJD can be credited for wresting one seat from the BJP while retaining another one.

It appears all the charm offensive by Priyanka Gandhi-Vadra in Uttar Pradesh was of no consequence. It was more than a year since Priyanka had pegged herself in Lucknow. All the campaigning by Rahul Gandhi also does not seem to have yielded any dividends in Bihar. However, the losses in Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat should concern the High Command more as the party was victim of en bloc defection and failed to retain the support base. Overall, the Congress’ performance is extremely depressing and should be reason for serious introspection.

M A Siraj is a veteran journalist and writer based in Bengaluru 

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