The Gujarat election results have underlined several factors that call for close scrutiny within the BJP and the Congress as well as both parties gear up for the general elections in 2019.
BJP has won the Gujarat Assembly elections for the record sixth time in a row. It is a great achievement for the BJP to emerge victorious, after staying in power for over two decades. But at the same time Congress also displayed a much improved performance under a rejuvenated Rahul Gandhi. The results are enough for the Congress to proclaim indications that Rahul Gandhi has emerged as the principal challenger for Prime Minister Modi in 2019 general elections. After, continuously losing fifteen state elections since the drubbing in 2014, the results of Gujarat assembly elections is seen as a revival for Congress.
It is true that the Congress under Rahul Gandhi was much more vibrant in their election campaign in Gujarat and indeed left stone unturned and challenged both BJP and Mode as well. In fact, the increased energy and enthusiasm shown by the Congress during the Gujarat election, at one stage made the BJP nervous and forced BJP to bank more on brand Modi. As a result Prime Minister Mode had to increase the number of rallies and address the public.
Overall, it was a well thought-out election campaign and all through the campaign trails, once could visibly note the marked change Rahul Gandhi’s approach. He reached out to wider segments of society, interacted with farmers, traders, tribals and raised issues that concerned them. Congress think tank was equally active on the social media as well which raised a series of questions targeting BJP’s development plank. Even he was not hesitant in proclaiming himself as a true “ Shiv Bahkth” and visited a many as 27 temples in the state trying to his best woo Hindus. As for years, Congress has been labelled as anti-Hindu and indulging in the appeasement of the minorities.
By and large the defeat has been hailed by the Congress as first real triumph of Rahul Gandhi. The wining of 80 seats by the Congress, its highest seat tally and vote share in Modi’s home state in the last two decades, has been hailed as a remarkable turnaround for the Congress and the party claimed that Rahul Gandhi is the lead factor for this achievement.
On the other hand the narrow victory for the BJP has not only caused severe heart burns within the party as the party was confident of reaching the coveted 150 mark but it woefully fell short of 100. It is also for the first time that the BJP's tally slipped below the 100 mark since the party formed its maiden government on its own in 1995.
Considering the fact that Gujarat is the home state of both PM Narendra Modi and BJP president Amit Shah, the narrow victory for the BJP is surely a warning bell and call for complete introspection.
But at the same time one should also take in to the consideration that despite various factors such as anti incumbency (remember BJP is in power for 22 years in the state), Congress’ rainbow coalition with several community leaders, increased campaign against the implementation of demonitisation and GST and more importantly the absence of Modi as Chief Minister, BJP managed to retain the power for the sixth time.
Further, the caste leaders, Rahul Gandhi’s new found young allies, focused on the caste -lines and brazenly attempted to divide the Hindu society on caste lines and pit one section against the other. There was even an open attempt by the Archbishop of Gandhinagar who took the religious-lines and appealed openly to his people to stop “nationalist forces” (BJP) who “are on the verge of taking over the country and sought the intervention of Lord Jesus.
Modi had been the chief minister of Gujarat for 12 years before moving over to New Delhi and he has been credited as the architect of Gujarat model of development by the BJP. Still, Prime Minister Mode had to reach out to his own people to save the BJP from the scare of defeat.
Political analysts point out that the Gujarat election results have underlined several issues for the BJP that need to be addressed across the country and get ready for the 2019 general election. First, BJP need to realise that probably the results may be an indication of the direction the polity will possibly take in the near future. So, it is important for the BJP to get its cadre and leadership to be in sync and the preparation for the 2019 general elections should start from now.
For the BJP the brand Modi remain untainted and his popularity continues to be unmatched. With his credibility with the voters still high, Modi’s ability to connect well with the electorate, in spite of the hiccups caused by demonetisation and GST, stands tall. In fact that all the anti-Modi propaganda unleashed by the opposition against his persona has failed to cut ice with the masses as BJP managed to win with a 8% increase in the vote share.
But still, Congress may tap in to the disaffection with the current Modi government on some issue by a segment of people, and try to will bounce back. It is very much crucial for teh BJP to cautiously negotiate through a section of new voters with enhanced expectations
On the other hand, for the Congress there is lot to cheer about. Its performance in the election is note worthy as the party significantly improved its seats and literally gave the incumbent BJP a tough fight.
Besides, Gujarat is the first-ever big state election under Rahul Gandhi and the results did boost the morale of the party cadre as the Congress has achieved a major breakthrough by making strong inroads in BJP’s citadel of Gujarat. If elections are all about perception, then the Gujarat election has set the tone for Congress’s campaign for the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. After the verdict, Rahul Gandhi called it a "massive jolt" to the BJP. Rahul Gandhi also criticised the much-touted Gujarat model of development, and called it "good propaganda and able marketing", but which is "hollow from within."
Rahul Gandhi also raised questions about Prime Minister Narendra Modi's credibility after he led his party to a narrow victory in his home state. He claimed the Gujarat results indicated that the country was not listening to Modi anymore and took a dig at his Gujarat model of development. The new Congress president chief, who vigorously campaigned in Gujarat, said in three months the state and its people taught him one thing that one can defeat opponents only with love and brotherhood, and not anger, money or force.
Rahul Gandhi, who was once considered by many as a non-serious player and a reluctant leader, has indeed bounced back. The Congress has already started to project the renewed Rahul Gandhi as the sole formidable opposition voice against the ruling dispensation. Also the fact remains that the significant progress of the Congress made in Gujarat was attributed to the three musketeers from outside the party and cannot be claimed as the tribute to Rahul Gandhi’s leadership.
With his new found Hindu identity and also declaring himself as “Shiva Bhakth”, Congress is geared up to take on the BJP on the lines of its own “Hindutava”. Congress is expected to continue its new formulae with the same verve displayed during the Gujarat campaign as it has considerably yielded the fruits .But, it remains to be seen whether it is merely an election gimmick or the party will reconcile the divisive agenda and focus on the appeasement of minorities as it has been the case for decades.
To succeed further it is pertinent for Rahul Gandhi, as Congress president , to sustain the kind of political momentum and focus on creating an election machinery on the ground that can match up to BJP.