Finally, the mighty war between the BJP and Congress ended yesterday after the results were announced but. Even though the later lost the elections both in Himachal Pradesh and Gujarat, it had won morally and defeated the BJP, so believes the Congress party. The results for the assembly elections held in Himachal on 9 Nov and in two phases in Gujarat on 9 Dec and 14 Dec were declared on 18 Dec.
BJP had confidently boasted of winning in both the states and it also did, but as the Congress is viewing the results, it defeated the BJP. The newly elected Congress President Rahul Gandhi throughout his campaigns and said that no matter what the BJP leaders say, Congress will reply them with love. Summing up the mood of the party workers after the announcement of the victory of BJP, Congress functionary Madhu Goud Yashki said that “It’s true we have lost the elections today but the morale of our workers is not down… I would say it is a respectable loss.”
In Gujarat, unlike it had confidently claimed of nailing 150+ seats of the total 180, BJP won 99 seats and Congress got 77 in its pocket. While in Himachal Pradesh BJP won 44 seats and Congress managed to get 20 of the total 68 seats.
The verdict of the polls was more or less expected in both the states, but what was not expected was the Congress excepting the defeat with calm and dignity. It was being speculated that the defeat of Congress would be blamed on the head of Rahul Gandhi, like it was done back in 2014 but on the contrary, his changed attitude and the new avatar is being appreciated by the party members. When the Congress suffered a humiliating defeat in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections the losses were invariably put down to Rahul Gandhi’s lack of public connect, poor leadership and oratorical skills. Rather the recent results have boosted the confidence of the Congress members and Rahul to some extent had been successful in proving his leadership and the new post he has been appointed.
The results, especially the Gujarat polls outcome has raised a question in the minds of many that is the BJP duo of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and party president Amit Shah are still as invincible as they appeared to be three years ago.
The moral of the Congress does not seem to have shifted much. If compared to the previous assembly election results in Gujarat while BJP was at the score of 115 and Congress at 61 in 2012, the tally for the former dropped down to 99 in 2017 and for the latter, it increased to 77. And the statement of Congress general secretary CP Joshi sums it all. He said that “Agreed, we did not succeed in uprooting the banyan tree but we have certainly given it a good shake, Rahul Gandhi has managed to do that… he has arrived.”
Congress party proudly boasted that even though the results say a defeat for them but it is a victory for the party. The opposition party claims that Rahul Gandhi had single-handedly not just fought the battle in Gujarat but also gave a strong competition to BJP after almost two decades. The fact that Prime Minister Narendra Modi held 40 rallies and Party President Amit Shah camped in the poll-bound state for almost two months, underlines the reality that Congress had gotten on the nerves of BJP during the campaigning.
BJP was not much worried about the polls in Gujarat three months back. The confidence of the BJP that, it has been ruling the state for the past 22 years and will continue to do so suddenly seemed on shaky grounds when it saw Congress emerging as a strong competitor. And this was the reason that Modi and Shah were not enough so they even had to deploy a number of Central ministers and chief ministers for campaigning in Gujarat.
Former Union minister Kishore Chandra Deo, after the poll results were announced said that “It is, at best, a technical win for the BJP but the Congress has won a moral victory. Rahul Gandhi had won the day with his dignified campaign, his focus on people-centric issues and his determination to steer clear of the BJP’s communal rhetoric.”
Another major outcome of the poll results is that it has not just undoubtedly strengthened Rahul Gandhi’s position in the Congress, but has also him one of the lead contenders against Prime Minister Narendra Modi for the upcoming Lok Sabha elections due in 2019. Six months back, Rahul was not regarded as a tough competition, nor was he accepted by many as a contender against Modi. Back then it was only Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar who was considered a candidate who could stand against Modi. But after his breakup with the RJD-Congress and alliance with BJP all had lost hope of a strong candidate who could pull down on Narendra Modi and fight as the oppositions Prime Ministerial face.
Now that the President of the main opposition party is being accepted as a leader by the other opposition parties, it is more or less clear that Rahul Gandhi will increasingly be seen as the prime ministerial candidate of a proposed anti-BJP front of Opposition parties. This notion was further strengthened when all the major Opposition parties – the Communist Party of India (Marxist), Rashtriya Janata Dal, Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, Samajwadi Party, Trinamool Congress and the National Conference, attended the dinner hosted b Rahul Gandhi over the weekend.
In his first reactions to the Gujarat results, Congress President Rahul Gandhi said that “Gujarat has given me a lot of love. It taught me that Opposition’s anger and money power can be defeated easily by love.” He had said that the party had given a massive jolt to the BJP giving it a reality check and added that the results had put a big question mark on Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s credibility.
Attacking Modi, the Congress leader said that the Prime Minister throughout his campaigns never spoke about development and GST, but now that the party has won, the Prime Minister says that its victory of development and a stamp on the GST policy.
Meanwhile, Shiv Sena, who is an ally of BJP in Maharashtra also entirely dismissed the victory of BJP in Gujarat and praised Congress instead. Sena said that the drop in the tally of BJP seats in Gujarat is an indication that the Gujarati’s are disappointed with the BJP and its development model. “Although you see the BJP coming to power, the real winner is the Congress party. They may have lost, but have defeated the BJP,” senior Shiv Sena leader Sanjay Raut said.
Praising the new leadership skills that were seen during the Gujarat campaigning, Shiv Sena’s mouthpiece, ‘Saamna’ read that “When the faces of bigwigs (in the BJP) were turning grey due to fear of defeat, Rahul Gandhi was in the poll arena without bothering about the result. It is this confidence that will take Rahul forward.” Also taking a dig at the BJP, Raut said that since the party has been ruling in the state for past 22years, its victory was a foregone conclusion. He also added that the use of money power and deployment of 14 Chief Ministers for the campaign were other reasons that the party managed to get even 99 seats, but the party did not win the victory it expected.
Warning the BJP and giving it a reality check, Shiv Sena leader Sanjay Raut said that the party should take lessons from Gujarat and understand the mood of the country. “If people in Gujarat are not happy (with the BJP) today, then understand their psyche, understand what people in the country feel,” he said.
Taking a dig at the BJP for raising questions on the governance of Congress, the Shiv Sena editorial also read that “Are those who think that nothing happened in the previous 60 years and that India progressed only in the last three years, humans or epitome of foolishness?”
On the other hand, it seems like the BJP is not rejoicing over its victory. A day after the results were announced, BJP Party President Amit Shah alleged that the party failed to nail the target of 150+ seats in Gujarat because the Congress played dirty politics. He blamed the Congress for stooping low and playing caste politics. “Congress brought the level of the campaign down, because of which our number of seats went down,” he said.
Though the moral of the Congress is boosted and the party is also celebrating its defeat, considering it a moral victory, the party should not get over confident as it still has to fill in many loop holes. The defeat of Congress in Gujarat also points out that Rahul Gandhi can only go so far in luring in the voters. While on one hand, BJP had Narendra Modi, Amit Shah and a number of other BJP Chief Minister including the new Hindutva face of BJP, Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath, handling the campaigning in Gujarat. Rahul Gandhi was the only strong Congress leader to hold rallies and conferences on behalf of the opposition party.
Congress needs to understand that the party needs more vibrant and confident leaders to represent the party in front of the people. The Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh assembly elections are only two challenges that the party faced, but there are a lot more coming up in the next year. Four states including Karnataka, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh will go to polls in 2018 and the party needs to start preparing well in advance from now if it hopes for a win in these states.
While in Gujarat, Congress had to turn to the trio of Hardik Patel, Alpesh Thakor and Jignesh Mevani – leaders of the Patidar, Other Backward Classes, and Dalit communities, to get to the people and tap their anger against the BJP. This had to be done because the party’s own leaders, such as Shaktisinh Gohil, Siddharth Patel, and Arjun Modvadia were not much of the leaders who could influence the decision of the people in Gujarat. So did the results showed, as all three of them lost the seats on Monday.
Another major thing that the party needs to focus on is strengthening its workers and organisation at the booth level. The party surely lacked a well-oiled organisation to ensure voters reach the polling booths on the poll day in Gujarat. The improvement of the tally in Gujarat has no doubt refilled energy in the Congressmen, but the party should also not forget that it is fighting anti-incumbency in the southern state of Karnataka, which goes to polls in 2018.
According to the experts, to pull down on BJP, the main opposition party “besides defending the state government’s record, it will also have to fend off the BJP’s attempts to communalise the election, as it did in Gujarat.”
The results of the Himachal Pradesh and Gujarat Assembly elections have cleared a lot of mist accumulating in the minds of the people regarding the future political equations in India. A few months back, while the Congress was on ventilator striving hard to make its presence be felt in the politics of India, is now out of the ICU. It has also shown the mirror to BJP that establishing a Congress mukt Bharat is still far from achievable. But as it goes in the political world, nothing can be predicted in advance.
Another thing which could be analysed during and after the elections by the political experts was that BJP is trying to set a pattern for the 2019 polls. BJP’s tally dropped in Saurashtra region which was considered as a stronghold of the party. It went to polls in the first phase, but on the contrary, the same did not happen in Central and North Gujarat, which went to the polls in the second phase. It can be said that BJP dropped seats in Saurashtra as it is Patel dominated regions and after Hardik Patel extended his support to Congress, this was more or less, predictable. However, the reason for getting seats in Central and North Gujarat was the campaigning of Modi.
During the campaigning for the second phase, Modi tactfully played the card of Congress and Pakistan together influencing the Gujarat polls. He very cleverly stepped up the Hindutva rhetoric to claim, that the Congress had conspired with Pakistan to make Ahmed Patel, a Muslim, the chief minister of Gujarat. While the drop in Saurashtra depicts that in the coming months, the politics of reservation will be accorded greater significance, but by the time surely the BJP will be well prepared for it. On the other hand, the Hindutva card also shows that Modi has already laid the agenda for the upcoming assembly and general elections due in 2018-19.
Narendra Modi has also well in advance started preparing to fight the reservation obstacle it is most likely to face. As it lost the seats in Saurashtra because of the Patidar agitation, the reservation politics is much likely to hamper the BJP in other upcoming elections also. To play the caste politics, the Prime Minister has already appointed a committee to sub-categorize the Other Backward Classes and the process will most probably be completed by Feb 2018. Sub-categorisation of the OBC will split the Other Backward Classes into three categories. After the categorization, each of the sub categories will then be given a 27% of reservation of government jobs and seats in educational institutes reserved for the socially and educationally backward classes. This move of Modi will definitely keep all the castes to his court without actually disappointing anyone.
Another fact that also favours the caste and reservation politics poly of Modi is that a bill that was earlier passed by the Lok Sabha this year to establish a new National Commission for Backward Classes.
The analysis of the recent assembly polls only shows that both the parties have got their lessons and if strategically and intelligently planned, either of them could form the government at the center in 2019.