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ADDING UP

No two elections being the same, it is pointless to look for a pattern in the results of the recent bypolls in several states. It is even more pointless to compare these results with those of the last general elections. In the parliamentary elections, the people across the country voted to choose a government at the Centre. Narendra Modi dominated that poll campaign and scripted the Bharatiya Janata Partyís massive victory almost single-handedly. The fact that the BJP did not do very well in this monthís by-elections, however, has nothing to do with Mr Modiís popularity or his governmentís performance during its first 100 days. These elections were local affairs and their verdicts reflected ground-level political arithmetic more than anything else. The results of the polls in Bihar illustrate this most clearly. The moment Nitish Kumarís Janata Dal (United) and Lalu Prasadís Rashtriya Janata Dal decided to form a common front, along with the Congress, the poll arithmetic gave it an advantage over the BJP. Although the BJP had won 31 of the 40 seats in Bihar in the Lok Sabha elections earlier this year, its vote share was less than the combined votes of the JD(U), RJD and the Congress. That time, the BJPís opponents were divided and fell; united now, they stood.

So, does Bihar again show the way, as it once did under Jayaprakash Narayan in the mid-1970s, uniting all anti-Congress forces? Mr Kumar and Mr Prasad would like to think so, but not many others share their optimism over forging a so-called secular front across the country to fight the BJP. The example in Bihar has more to do with the caste-based support to the parties than with political morality or any agenda for governance. Until these elections, Mr Kumar and Mr Prasad had been bitter rivals in Biharís politics for 20 years. It is uncertain if their new alliance would last till next yearís elections to the state assembly. More important, such a front would be rather toothless elsewhere in the country without a rejuvenated Congress. Indiaís grand old party is currently struggling to survive in nearly half of the provinces. After its humiliating defeat in the Lok Sabha polls, the party may find some comfort in its performance in Karnataka, Punjab and even Madhya Pradesh. But it can only be small comfort, for the party shows no signs of genuine introspection and a plan for course correction.