Electoral defeats do not mean the end of the world; but political parties can see them as wake-up calls. Assamís chief minister, Mr Tarun Gogoi, will do well to take his partyís defeat in the Khumtai assembly byelection as such. It would be simplistic to read in the bypoll result a verdict on Mr Gogoiís 18-month ministry. The victorious Asom Gana Parishad was voted out of office in last yearís state assembly elections. The party has not done anything remarkable since then to either set its own house in order or to regain the peopleís confidence. Its victory at Khumtai has more to do with the Congressís mismanagement of the poll. The party not only failed to put up a united show but also spread confusion among its supporters by being indecisive about a rebel candidate. It cannot seek much comfort in the fact that the Bharatiya Janata Party came a poor third in the Khumtai contest. On the contrary, Mr Gogoi and his party should be worried about the lack of organizational discipline and cohesion. Even if it has not achieved any spectacular successes, Mr Gogoiís regime has seen a distinct improvement in the law and order situation in the state. Its record of handling insurgency and related problems has been definitely better than that of the AGP government. The stateís financial mess is also a legacy of the previous regime. But the AGPís negative points cannot add up to the Congressís gains for an indefinite period. The party must rejuvenate itself, even as it has to scrupulously avoid the mistakes of the AGP.
The Congress can, however, derive some comfort from its victory in the other northeastern bypoll ó at Daporijo in Arunachal Pradesh. But even there, the success is more a reflection of the absence of a credible opposition than an endorsement of the partyís rule. The party has had a monopoly of the assembly seats in the state ever since the breakaway Arunachal Congress merged with the parent party. The partyís performances in two bypolls would not have been of much consequence but for the fact that they may have an impact on other states in the region where it leads a government or is a partner in a ruling coalition. Nagaland, where it runs the government, goes to the polls next year. In Meghalaya, its partnership with the Nationalist Congress Party looks increasingly more fragile. The party cannot afford to lower its guard in a region that has traditionally stood by it.