After Gujarat, 2019 LS polls may be an open race

After Gujarat, 2019 LS polls may be an open race

The next Lok Sabha polls may still be two years away, but the outcome of the Assembly elections in Gujarat will certainly hold importance for both the BJP and the Congress. The aggressively fought polls in this western state were key for the two parties to draw inspiration for 2019. And to face a string of Assembly elections in 2018.

In the end, both parties seem to have a lot to take home from the Gujarat results to face the next parliamentary elections. It being the home state of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the BJP was determined not to lose the high-stakes battle. Nor was Congress' Rahul Gandhi prepared to leave an inch to his rival. It was easily one of the most fiercely fought elections in recent times.

The BJP won in the end but was undoubtedly made to sweat; the result was some sort of a revival for the Congress. It has now lived to fight another day. The party may have lost, but the Gujarat showing has yet given it confidence to face the 2019 polls. For the first time, the Congress performed well in the state after 32 long years - its 2017 tally of 77 in a House of 182 was the highest since 1985. This may have given the century-old party a badly-needed boost of self-belief to fight the LS polls and feel that the parliamentary elections may still be open.

Despite the Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh losses - the first it lost after giving a tough fight and the second it allowed the BJP to wrest from it rather easily - the Congress can draw enough hope to fight the coming Assembly elections in the key states of Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chattisgarh.

While the BJP seems to be sitting pretty in the northern states of Rajasthan, MP and Chattisgarh - it will seek to win the latter two states for the fourth straight term - it might be a tough task for the Congress to wrest these states. The BJP won impressively in these states in 2003, 2008 and 2013.

The party will also have to defend in several states in the North East as Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland and Tripura are also heading for polls in 2018. Among the bigger states going to polls, the Congress is ruling in only one state - Karnataka. Punjab is the only other (comparatively smaller) state where the party is in power.

The Congress faced humiliating defeat in Uttar Pradesh this year and in Delhi in 2015, where it was in power. It won Punjab and did not do too badly in the smaller states of Goa and Manipur. However, it is another matter that the lack of quick decision-making in the party ensured that it lost out in both the states to a clinical BJP which was all charged-up to wrest power in the two states.

Nevertheless, the Congress will be up against a formidable BJP and party stalwart and Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The win in the two states in the current round of Assembly elections means the BJP is now in control either directly or in coalition with a partner in as many as 19 of the 29 states. The BJP is in alliance in Jammu and Kashmir, Jharkhand, Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh.

The party holds sway over states in all the four regions of the country - north and west predominantly and to some extent in the south and east. With this, the BJP has created a record - it is the first party in the last over two decades to hold sway in 19 states. Congress, with its allies, was in power in 18 states, but that 24 years ago!

Though the Congress lost Gujarat again - for the sixth consecutive term - the party can still draw solace and confidence in the lack of aura in the BJP win. In the high-voltage electioneering, the Congress, led by Rahul Gandhi, did not leave any stone unturned in making a go at the ruling BJP. It succeeded in reminding the electorate the impact of demonetisation, GST, urban-rural divide, agrarian crisis, lack of proper remunerative prices for farm produce, etc.

Dented victory

Since it has now won Gujarat, the BJP will certainly be boisterous while facing elections in Karnataka and other states, especially when it comes to subjects like demonetisation and GST. It can claim that if these two major decisions of the Modi government really had adversely impacted the people, it would not have won in Gujarat. The BJP had said the currency devaluation had no major fallout in Uttar Pradesh as it won the state comfortably.

Still, the showing in Gujarat must have disappointed the BJP. From a high of an ambitious target of 150 seats, the party had to satisfy itself to a tally of under 100. It is the home state of Modi, BJP president Amit Shah, and key Union ministers such as Arun Jaitley who got elected to the Rajya Sabha from here. That it was not an emphatic win - unlike UP in March-April this year - has certainly dented the BJP's victory.

The Congress did well by striking alliances with young leaders Hardik Patel and Jignesh Mevani and inducting Alpesh Thakor into the party. This energised the party in different regions and gave it a clear edge in several key seats which impacted on the results in the neighbouring seats.

Though it lost the state, this election is a huge comeback for the Congress - it had lost all the 26 seats in the state in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls. From its strong showing of 60% vote share in 2014, the BJP has come down to 49.1% in this election. Congress has seen a gain in the vote share - from 33% in 2014 to 41.1% now.

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