The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Bypolls: Congress smiles and winces

New Delhi, Dec. 7: The Congress’s bypoll balance-sheet reads better than the BJP’s but the ruling Big Brother has been shown its place by an erstwhile ally and served a reminder by an ignored satrap.

The Congress wrested two Assembly seats in Maharashtra and Karnataka and took away a Lok Sabha seat from the Telugu Desam Party in Andhra Pradesh in the byelections in 11 states.

The BJP had little to show for itself other than a lone win in Madhya Pradesh. But the smaller parties again proved that despite attempts at “mainstreaming” them, their regional agendas could see them through.

The most striking victories were that of Telengana Rashtra Samiti chief K. Chandrasekhar Rao from the Karimnagar Lok Sabha seat; Siddaramaiah, formerly a lieutenant of H.D. Deve Gowda who rebelled against his leader and joined the Congress, from Karnataka’s Chamundeshwari Assembly constituency; and Renu Jogi, wife of Chhattisgarh chief minister Ajit Jogi, from the Kota Assembly seat in Chhattisgarh.

They won for different reasons, both political and personal, and against heavy odds.

Rao retained Karimnagar with a nearly 2-lakh margin while the Congress wrested the Bobbili parliamentary seat from the Desam by only 157 votes.

The Congress’s loss of face in Andhra, which it had swept in the Assembly and Lok Sabha elections of 2004, was underlined by the fact that Rao fought the poll on the Telengana plank and harped on how the national party had “betrayed” the people of the region by going back on its promise of a separate state.

Rao was a minister in the UPA government but the Congress’s reluctance to act on the creation of Telengana, coupled with the restiveness in the TRS and its supporters, forced him to withdraw support, resign and seek a fresh mandate.

Congress sources underplayed his re-election, saying there was nothing to “fear”. Not until the next Andhra election.

The sources admitted that Siddaramaiah’s win by a little over 200 votes was not so much a feather in the party’s cap because the battle was fought on personality lines.

Renu Jogi’s election from Kota by over 21,000 votes against a candidate of the ruling BJP was again perceived as a “personal triumph” for her husband who, sources said, was seeking an “opportunity” to prove to the high command that he still mattered in Chhattisgarh.

A significant Congress win was in Rajasthan’s Dungarpur. Since Vasundhara Raje became chief minister, barring one bypoll, the BJP has not lost any.

In Maharashtra, the Congress bucked anti-incumbency to wrest both Assembly seats, Daryapur and Chimur in Vidarbha. Few in the party expected this verdict because Vidarbha was the epicentre of farmers’ suicides and the Dalit uprising.

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