Cong comeback, just in time for 2019

Cong comeback, just in time for 2019

Congress party workers burst firecrackers as they celebrate the counting trends for the recent Assembly elections, at AICC headquarters in New Delhi. PTI

The results of the assembly elections held in five states are a major setback to the BJP, which looks set to lose power in all three Hindi heartland states – Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh -- that went to polls, and a boost to the Congress, which is all set to form governments in Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh and is within striking distance of it in Madhya Pradesh. Three of the five states — Telangana, Chhattisgarh and Mizoram — saw very emphatic victories by the parties that won them. The victory of K Chandrasekhar Rao’s Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) in Telangana was expected, but the landslide that it won, humiliating the Congress-TDP alliance, had not been foreseen. In Mizoram, the Congress lost power and fared badly, though the political stakes in the tiny North-Eastern state are not high. The most remarkable result was in Chhattisgarh, where the Congress swept the elections, securing a two-thirds majority, reducing the BJP, which had ruled the state for 15 years, to a poor second position. 

The defeat of the BJP in Rajasthan and Congress’ rise in Madhya Pradesh are politically more significant because they are bigger states and the performance of parties there has a greater bearing on national politics. The BJP was well-entrenched in both states, with large majorities. Though Rajasthan is known to alternate between the BJP and the Congress every five years, the BJP has had an unbroken 15-year term under a strong chief minister in Madhya Pradesh. The ouster of the party from the pole position in these two states has a significance that goes beyond their boundaries. In both states, the Congress has won the narrowest victories after an inch by inch and seat by seat battle. The BJP lost because its narrative was rejected by the voters both in cities and towns, across classes and classes and among all age groups. The high rural distress, joblessness among the youth and a loss of faith in the party did it in, and the Hindutva issues it raked up did not help. 

The Congress could not take full advantage of the sentiment against the BJP in the two states, especially in Rajasthan, because of various reasons like organisational weakness and inability to present a united front at all levels. But the victories are remarkable because it had to fight a party which is organisationally stronger, has much more resources and enjoys the backing of a strong central government. Its campaign was led by the country’s biggest vote-getter, Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The defeat shows that the Modi magic and Amit Shah’s tactics cannot rescue the party when the odds are heavily stacked against it. 

The Congress has clearly come back into national reckoning with these wins. It came back from nowhere, against the BJP’s declarations to make the country Congress-mukt, and has shown that it will possibly be the axis of an alliance of opposition parties against the BJP in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. The Congress victories and the BJP debacles have given confidence to the entire opposition and raised the hopes and possibilities of a victory at the national level. In terms of leadership, it has raised the profile of Congress president Rahul Gandhi, and may have given him better credentials and acceptability for 2019.