India bypolls 2021
Congress wrested the high profile Mandi Lok Sabha seat from the BJP and won all three assembly seats in Himachal Pradesh. Mamata Banerjee also had an impressive showing in Bengal bypolls. Congress' Pratibha Singh (middle), wife of former Himachal Pradesh chief minister Virbhadra Singh, defeated BJP's Brigadier Khushal Thakur in a keenly watched contest. Image Credit: ANI

Bypolls are usually boring exercises. Data shows that the party in power usually ends up winning seats in by elections as well, not leaving much room for surprise or scintillating analysis. But this week, bypolls to 3 Lok Sabha seats and 30 assembly constituencies threw up some unexpected results. Here are the key takeaways:

1) Shock defeats in BJP-ruled Himachal Pradesh, Karnataka and Rajasthan marked a reality check for the ruling BJP which otherwise did well in Assam. Of the 30 assembly seats, the BJP has won 8 overall while the Congress won 9.

2) Two of the three Lok Sabha seats which went to the polls were won by the opposition — the congress in Mandi in Himachal and the Shiv Sena in Dadra and Nagar Haveli (ST), the first time ever that the party has a Lok Sabha MP from outside Maharashtra. This defeat is especially embarrassing for the BJP which sent a number of union ministers to campaign for their candidate including Smriti Irani and Ashwini Vaishnav.

3) The big takeaway however saw the Congress which had a good day, showing it still has the fight left to take on the BJP, despite its own struggles. The biggest shocker came in Himachal Pradesh, where the Congress swept the polls ahead of state elections next year and wrested two crucial seats from the BJP.

This includes the prestigious Mandi Lok Sabha seat and the JubbalKotkhai assembly seat. The Congress also won a key assembly seat in Karnataka from the BJP in the home district of the BJP Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai, for whom this is being seen as a personal defeat in his own backyard. The Congress also defeated the BJP in an assembly seat the saffron party held in Rajasthan.

4) However, the congress was drubbed in the 2 seats it contested in Bihar, with both the candidates losing their deposits. It is a lesson that the grand old party not only has to go back to drawing board in states like Bihar and UP, but also be more accommodating with allies like Lalu Yadav’s RJD with whom there was a breakdown over candidates.

5) Mamata Banerjee has proved that her domination of Bengal politics is complete as her party, the Trinamool Congress, swept all four assembly bypolls. In three of the seats, the BJP candidates lost their deposits and the party lost its vote share.

6) The BJP and its allies did very well in Assam and Bihar, as expected. So what is the messaging from these bypolls?

Congress which had a good day, showing it still has the fight left to take on the BJP, despite its own struggles. The biggest shocker came in Himachal Pradesh, where the Congress swept the polls ahead of state elections next year and wrested two crucial seats from the BJP

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First, that the BJP cannot take its majority for granted and that the party has lost ground both in terms of seats and vote share in Bengal, had a massive setback in Himachal ahead of elections and lost prestige battles in Karnataka and Rajasthan. Ahead of next year’s assembly polls, the party will worry.

There are also some signs that the farmer protests have hurt the BJP in Haryana where the INLD’s Abhay Chautala won an assembly seat defeating the BJP which was trailing in almost all villages there.

Secondly, while the Congress may have done well this week, the fact remains that the party is still in decline elsewhere. It barely has a cadre to speak of in the most crucial state of Uttar Pradesh, which faces elections in just a few months, and as the Bihar bypoll disaster shows, arrogance with allies is still an issue.

That is why even an old friend like Lalu Yadav did not hold back on his criticism of the Congress recently and why Mamata Banerjee has launched a direct attack on the party, saying Modi is getting stronger because the Congress can’t get its act together.

Thirdly, regional parties continue to play a key political role as Mamata’s resounding success has shown. But can she translate this into something more in 2024? We will have to see how the TMC’s forays into states like Goa fare, along with the AAP.

The fact remains that the Congress is still the only pan-India opposition party. Any workable opposition coalition in India will have to have the Congress in it.

Finally, the results show why Indian politics is so interesting and dynamic. Anything is possible.