NEW DELHI: By-elections are, broadly speaking, not even footnotes in politics, expected to land in ruling party kitty or the local satrap, representative of nothing significant. But Anna Hazare's picking ofHissar Lok Sabha bypoll as his debut in 'referendum' politics has raised an alarm that he is looking to do a Jabalpur bypoll in Haryana.

Congress lost Jabalpur bypoll in 1974, which became an inflection point for the anti-Congress movement under the late Jaiprakash Narain. The victory for a young Sharad Yadav was seen as the beginning of Congress' decline and thus imparted a momentum to Opposition's campaign leading to the imposition of Emergency and, subsequently, the first-ever defeat of Congress in LS polls.

Hazare's wading into the Hissar battle has added excitement to an election whose only highlight was the ego battle between the volatile sons of arch-rivals Congress rebel Bhajan Lal and Jat strongman Om Prakash Chautala. Congress is a marginal player here.

Having made no bones about targeting Congress, Hazare could not have picked his battleground in "referendum on Lokpal" politics better. It is Bhajan Lal stronghold with strong presence of non-Jat voters. Added to it is the anger among dalits, traditional Congress supporters, who are seething with anger over the atrocities committed by Jats at Mirchpur. The sessions court recently acquitted several accused,.

The opposition too has consolidated around defeating Congress. BJP's decision to back Kuldeep Bishnoi in his father Bhajan Lal's borough would supplement his non-Jat base with saffron pockets of influence. Ajay Chautala is looking to corner Jats and some other groups. That only adds to the problems of Congress in a seat it has won only thrice after Emergency.

The likely Congress defeat already has rival strategists plan to hold it up as a verdict on Hazare's call, a perfect launchpad for coming polls in Uttarakhand and Punjab and later Uttar Pradesh. Given the Gandhian's attempt to start a pan-Indian poll campaign against Congress, the latter has begun to outline a larger strategy influenced by the humbling lessons from the political botch up at Ramlila Maidan.

AICC spokesman Manish Tiwari refused to be drawn in the Hazare-Hissar debate, saying, "We contest every election with full energy and humbly accept the mandate. But we will try our best to win people's confidence."

Can Hissar be to Hazare what Jabalpur was to JP is an open question. Observers say it is too early to predict but add there is little doubt about the Gandhian's gameplan. "Else, how could the man from rural Maharashtra zero in on a far removed pocket in Haryana hinterland? The assurance of Congress defeat in the state it rules and the backdrop of still unraveling scams at the Centre has the potential to trouble the ruling party way beyond one state," a veteran said.

The power of bypolls would be back on test. While Congress can argue that Hissar was not its seat for the loss to signify much, it would up be up to Hazare how much can he portray the defeat as a referendum on the lead UPA player.

Only of marginal significance usually, by-elections in the past have troubled entrenched politicians and parties. Recently, the defeat of Mulayam Singh Yadav's daughter-in-law in Ferozabad only months after LS polls spread unprecedented negativity about Samajwadi Party while giving a legup to Congress looking to revive itself in UP. It has taken a while for SP to reverse the equations with some positive response for Akhilesh Yadav in his ongoing 'kranti rath'.