The Congress-led United Progressive Alliance’s failure to win not even one of the four by-elections — one Lok Sabha and three Assembly seats — has set off alarm bells within the ruling alliance.
In Bihar, UPA ally Rashtriya Janata Dal lost the Daraunda constituency in Siwan district by a convincing 20,000 margin, enabling the Janata Dal-United (JD-U) to retain the Assembly seat. In Maharashtra, the blow was sharp and deep.
The Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) which shares power with the Congress, lost the Khadakwasla seat in the heartland of NCP support, Pune, which is the sphere of influence of Deputy Chief Minister and NCP leader Ajit Pawar. The seat was earlier held by the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena which did not contest the election.
The Banswada by-election in the Telengana region of Andhra Pradesh was won by the K Chandrashekhar Rao (KCR)-led Telangana Rashtra Samiti (TRS). It was earlier held by the Telugu Desam Party (TDP), which did not contest this time. It was a net loss for the UPA, as the Congress candidate lost by 50,000 votes, a huge margin for an assembly constituency.
However, the maximum damage was done by the loss of the Hisar Lok Sabha seat where the by-election was held following the death of former chief minister Bhajan Lal, who was a Congressman and left the party in 2007 in protest against domination by the Jat community to form the Haryana Janhit Congress. Kuldeep Bishnoi, Bhajan Lal’s son who was a sitting MP from Bhiwani, was suspended and eventually expelled from the Congress. He contested the Hisar by-election and has won it by a slender margin. Ajay Chautala from the Indian National Lok Dal (INLD) increased the percentage of votes polled by his party (represented earlier by Sampat Singh) but the Congress candidate, Jai Prakash lost his deposit, coming third and dropped 55,000 votes over his last tally.
Caste politics — the victory of a non-Jat over two Jats who divided the Jat vote between them leading to the victory of Bishnoi, a non-Jat — appears to have played the principal role in Haryana, affirming the impression that the Congress Chief Minister B S Hooda had done little to address the growing concern of non-Jats.
Banswada in Andhra Pradesh, another Congress-run state, was represented in the assembly by TDP candidate Pocharam Srinivas Reddy. Reddy switched sides because he felt the TDP had not taken a strong stand on supporting the Telangana statehood. The TDP didn’t field a candidate against him.
“The people of Banswada have proved beyond any doubt that if the Congress does not concede Telangana, if the Congress does not deliver Telangana, the people of Telangana will not spare the Congress,” said KCR’s son, K T Rama Rao.
The renewed demand for Telangana has helped give KCR’s party a lease of life in the region. In the 2009 elections, the TRS won just 10 of the 117 assembly seats in Telangana and only two Lok Sabha seats.
But possibly the most dramatic victory — and defeat — was represented by the Daraunda assembly seat in Bihar’s Siwan district, with Kavita Singh defeating Parmeshwar Singh of the main opposition Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) by over 20,000 votes. Although earlier too, the JD-U had held the seat that it retained, an interesting twist was given by the nature of winning candidate and parties involved. Jagmato Devi was the sitting candidate who died.
Her son tried to lay claim to the seat and contest but there were so many criminal charges against him that he found himself debarred from the election. So he got married — soon after his mother had died — and fielded his wife Kavita. Against Kavita was the combined might of at least one person in jail on charges ranging from extortion to murder — Mohammad Shahabuddin, local don from Siwan — and locally influential politicians: among them Prabhunath Singh and Ajay Singh, the RJD Lok Sabha member from Maharajganj, Umashankar Singh and Siwan's Independent MP Omprakash Yadav.
The influence of the Thakur caste in the constituency was considerable. Rashtriya Janata Dal leader and former chief minister Lalu Prasad virtually made the Daraunda seat a prestige issue, appealing to the backward castes to enable him to keep his honour. But his candidate, Parameshwar Singh, lost.
Although all parties in the ruling UPA have gone into a huddle following the current setback, they say it is just a set of by-elections. But in three out of four states, the party in power is the Congress.