Analysis | Congress flop show in heartland: Reasons remain same

BJP workers and supporters celebrate the party's lead in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh during the counting of votes, at the party headquarters, in New Delhi. Photo: PTI

The latest round of assembly elections in 2023 have turned out different, only in the manner the Congress fought it and failed, except its stupendous win in Telangana.  

While most of the assembly elections in the past 10 years -- read the Modi decade in BJP and national politics largely -- saw a lacklustre Congress machinery struggling to catch up with the BJP, this round of polls looked different as the electioneering hinted at a comeback for the grand old party in the Hindi heartland.  

It was perceived that Madhya Pradesh was turning the Congress way while the party would comfortably retain the neighbouring Chhattisgarh. Even in Rajasthan, the hotbed of the Congress curse of infighting, many believed a tough fight was on.  

The Sunday verdict has just proven that the perception was nothing but a short-lived dream which the Congress believed to be too true, especially so in the Karnataka hangover. 

It would take a detailed data crunching to decode the Congress flop in the three states as well as its maiden win in Telangana, but the common themes one can infer from the results are evident.  

In Rajasthan (BJP leading in 112 seats, Congress in 70), the lingering infighting between Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot and former PCC chief Sachin Pilot has cost the party dearly. The one-upmanship Gehlot displayed throughout his five-year tenure and the strategic sidelining of Pilot was some drama to watch, and finally as it turns out the joke’s on the Congress leadership which failed to rein in the friction and thus allowed the mockery of the people’s mandate to continue. Even though the BJP was no different from the Congress in Rajasthan when it comes to confusion over state leadership, the saffron party has the last laugh as the state kept its habit of changing governments every five years. Its communal push put the last nail in the Congress coffin. 

Like Gehlot in Rajasthan, another veteran failed the Congress big time in Madhya Pradesh (BJP leading in 164 seats, Congress in 63). In the vast state, Congress veteran Kamal Nath almost single-handedly headed the electioneering often laden with an overt soft Hindutva tone. Nath’s desperation to cut into the largely consolidated Hindu vote bank was evident from his posturing as a Hanuman devotee, organising religious events and facilitating religious leaders.  

A perceived anti-incumbency against Shivraj Singh Chouhan’s three-term rule, barring a one-and-a-half year interlude by Nath’s Congress government, also seemed to have been working in favour of the Congress this time. However, a combined effort by the BJP’s national and state leadership managed to grab yet another victory in the big state with 230 constituencies. Nath contested the election as a wounded lion, hurt deeply by the ditching of Jyotiraditya Scindia, who effected the fall of the Congress government ahead of the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. Reports stated that Nath was so confident that he even rejected the candidates proposed by poll strategist Sunil Kanagolu. On the D-day, the Chhindwara satrap still remains a lion, a toothless one at that. In this graceless defeat, he also gifted the Congress a strategy which it would never want to repeat. The setback in the Gwalior region, the Scindia bastion,  also makes it clear that Congress is a party which can’t afford to lose any leader. 

In Chhattisgarh (BJP leading in 53 seats, Congress in 34), over confidence seems to have worked against Congress. The party was hoping to ride high on the welfare schemes of Bhupesh Baghel government there. Though the Congress was able to fix the organisational fissures by elevating Baghel’s contender T S Singh Deo as deputy CM, the BJP national leadership with Modi at the campaign front punctured the Congress hopes. Corruption allegations seem to have hit Baghel's fortunes this time. 

Telangana (Congress leading in 65 seats, BRS in 39) has emerged as an island of solace for the Congress amid the heartland flop show. Cashing in on the strong anti-incumbency wave against two-time CM Chandrasekhar Rao, the Congress revived its fortunes in the state under the energetic leadership of Revanth Reddy, who was appointed PCC chief only four years ago.  

Even when the Congress managed to grab power in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh in 2018, just a year later, the BJP was able to make huge strides in those states in the Lok Sabha elections. Now, with the saffron party holding its fortresses so strong in the state polls, Congress has nothing but a blank in the so-called Hindi-Hindu heartland to stare at. A turnaround in favour of Congress in the Lok Sabha polls next year, if it happens, would be more than a miracle.

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