Analysis | Eyes wide shut for Cong, wake-up call for BJP

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BJP leaders and workers dance to celebrate the party's victory in Gujarat Assembly elections, at BJP Headquarters in New Delhi, Thursday, Dec. 8, 2022. Photo: PTI/Vijay Verma

The BJP’s sweeping victory in its Hindutva lab, Gujarat, isn’t surprising for the Congress, but its own alarming erosion of votes and seats should be a major worry.

Of course, the grand old party can harp on the split in votes by the presence of AAP and the All India Majlis-E-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM), but the Congress should also do some soul searching – or open its perennially shut eyes.

Statistically, these excuses are fine, but it would be wrong to portray the party as a mere victim as AAP and AIMIM played spoilsport.

The exact reason for the Congress’s downfall in Gujarat this time is it did not bother to put up a fight there. Gujarat 2022 was a fight Congress conceded before it fought the poll.

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Congress workers celebrate the party's decisive lead in Himachal Pradesh Assembly Election, at the party office in Lucknow, Thursday, Dec. 8, 2022. Photo: PTI/Nand Kumar

It neither had the organisation nor the resources (read money and leaders) to weave a contest. In 2017, Rahul Gandhi was there leading the fight from the front.

He managed to create a false hope about a regime change and succeeded in winning 77 seats – its best in years.

This time, Rahul, all too busy with his Bharat Jodo ‘thapasya’, campaigned just one day in the western state and there was no sense of a Congress campaign in the Modi-Shah turf, at least not loud enough to be heard in this part of the country — the results vouch for this.

Himachal solace
Amid the Gujarat shame, the Himachal win came as a solace for the Congress.

With Himachal, it will have three states under its rule – Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh being the other two.

The hilly state played to the political rule book once again as anti-incumbency brought the BJP government down.

Gujarat, Himachal takeaways
In Gujarat, Narendra Modi is the lone hero. Gujarat can’t think of failing its hero no matter what his opponents say about him.

The prime minister led over 30 rallies in the state in the run-up to the polls, and it paid rich dividends.

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A BJP worker holding a cut-out of Prime Minister Narendra Modi during celebrations of the party's victory in Gujarat Assembly elections, at BJP headquarters in New Delhi, Thursday, Dec. 8, 2022. Photo: PTI/Vijay Verma

The Aam Aadmi Party, hoping to replace Congress as the principal opposition party in the country, entered the Gujarat fray with much aplomb.

It, however, ended up with some 13 per cent vote share which it ate from the Congress’s platter, going by overall stats.

The Gujarat figures make AAP a national party, a big boost for its quest to play a key role in the 2024 Lok Sabha polls.

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Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal digitally addresses media on the day of results of Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh Assembly elections, in New Delhi, Friday, Oct. 14, 2022. Photo: Photo: Twitter/@akejriwal

Congress, which lost its key leaders like Hardik Patel and Alpesh Thakore to the BJP, looked further clueless as the stage was set for a triangular contest. The Congress also felt the absence of a towering leader like Ahmed Patel this time as the pandemic claimed his life in 2020.

The Congress didn’t find a need to retain its remaining ground in the state – or whatever little is left of it.

This strategic mistake further eroded its credibility.

There should have been a focus to grab power in Himachal and to retain its position as a key player in Gujarat, at least with 50 seats.

The Gujarat rout looks so enormous that it effectively overshadows not only the Congress’s Himachal win but also the efforts the party has been taking for a revival, including the Bharat Jodo Yatra.

The organisation should have paid attention not to allow such a situation to arise. The Congress has to acknowledge AAP as a real challenge and devise strategies to handle it.

It is in challenging the AAP’s appeal to the urban middle class that the Congress has to use or at least play the ‘Tharoor card”, which has been lying unused in its ammo for long.

The stark contrast in the BJP’s landslide win in Gujarat and huge loss in Himachal also gives the saffron party some lessons.

It cannot sell its double engine government theory (Modi at Centre and a BJP government in the state) everywhere.

All states are not replicas of Gujarat.

The electorate is ready to vote BJP out as long as there’s a sense of alternative – in Himachal it was the Congress, which carries a legacy. Priyanka Gandhi's aggressive campaign also helped Congress big time in Himachal.

Inner party rifts also played a role in BJP’s loss in Himachal. This calls for a need to put its house together in states, where polls are due soon.

The biggest takeaway for the BJP and the Congress in this round of state polls is that it leaves the coming round wide open.

Now, wait for the whistles in Karnataka where these rivals will come face to face in the first of a handful of similar fights next year.

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