After a string of defeats, winning an upper hand in the heartland states of the country is definitely Nirvana for the sagging spirit of Congressmen and if that comes exactly one year after young Rahul Gandhi took the reins of the party, what else is needed for ecstasy.
In the time of celebrations and rejoice, there is a word of caution for the Congress and its president Rahul Gandhi. The assembly elections in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh, Telangana and Mizoram were touted as the semi-finals to the Lok Sabha elections due in May 2019. At present, the Congress' tally in the Lok Sabha is 47, excluding its allies, and the halfway mark is some 225 seats away.
If the grand old party continues its present performance and pace, winning the next general elections will be as easy as making Beelzebub bow before God.
Before the victory celebrations, Congress must realise the fact that voters in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh were really unhappy with the BJP rule and they were ready to give Congress a chance.
No killer instinct
It seems the Congress has failed to understand this writing on the wall in Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan. If Rahul Gandhi and his team were fast enough to read the voters' sentiments at the right moment and wrapped up an alliance with Mayawati's Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), the Congress tally in MP would have been at least 140 and in Rajasthan around 120. The BSP vote share in both the states is around nearly 5 per cent and this would have been the ideal so-desperately-needed booster dose for Congress in both the states. Moreover, the winning margin in over 40 MP seats is below 1,000. Rest of the calculation is elementary. Forget about the tally in Chhattisgarh if Mayawati's party also supported Congress, which posted a clean sweep even without the BSP's help.
Understanding the voter sentiment was no rocket science for Congress as it knew it very well in Chhattisgarh, a state carved out of Madhya Pradesh.
The feelings of Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh voters have a lot of similarities as they not only share the state borders but also inherited the same politics.
The anger of farmers was too obvious in Chhattisgarh and the Congress should have anticipated the same response in Madhya Pradesh and cashed in on to the hilt.
Shivraj Singh Chouhan was the chief minister of Madhya Pradesh for almost 15 years and the anti-incumbency factor was omniscent across the state. Same was the case with Raman Singh in Chhattisgarh. While Team Congress succeeded in exploiting the situation in Chhattisgarh, their reading failed in Madhya Pradesh, which is a bigger state and has more urban pockets than the Raipur-headquartered sister state. The saffron party has an edge in MP's urban belts like Indore is no secret and going it alone restrained Congress from taking maximum advantage of the anti-incumbency factor in this central India state.
The Rajasthan narrative was also not much different except that Vasundhara Raje Scindia was not CM for 15 years. But Rajasthan voters always preferred to alter the government in five years is a worst-kept secret and Congress must have reaped rich dividends – not a wafer-thin majority – in such a situation. Now, the rejuvenated Congress, led by an young Rahul, is huffing and puffing to garner simple majority in a state which should have been a cakewalk for it otherwise. The party's tally would have been at least 120 if it handled the rebel trouble and the BSP properly ahead of the elections.
Apart from the goof-up in Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan, the biggest bloomer of Congress in this elections was the tie-up with the TDP in Telangana. This was a clear indication that the party failed to understand the voter sentiments and went for a surprise alliance with its arch rival Telugu Desam Party in a desperate attempt to halt K Chandrashekhar Rao's juggernaut. The result was a self-invited disaster.
The Congress won just 19 seats, two less than 2013 tally.
One consistent factor in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Telangana for Congress is that the party failed to read the pulse properly at the right time and gifted some easy seats to its rivals.
A key factor which the Congress should be cautious about is that despite the electorate's rejection of the ruling BJP, the vote share difference between the too parties is miniscule.
Mizoram is another example of Congress's inability to gauge the swing in people's thinking and act accordingly. This spelt doom for the party in the north-east state where it ruled for five years with 34 seats in a 40-member House. The party is left with five seats now. This has also ensured that Congress lost all governments in the seven-sister states.
Rahul vs Modi in 2019
Cut to 2019 Lok Sabha polls when Rahul Gandhi will be facing the might of orator Modi and organiser Amit Shah in a bigger way.
The BJP will be more prepared for the general elections next year as they have realised the factor that a closer LS contest awaits them in April-May.
The saffron party also knows that Modi will remain a frontrunner, but not invincible. BJP's war room must be buzzing now with strategies to shift its focus to economic issues, especially farm distress and joblessness instead of temples and cow.
So, what is awaiting Congress in 2019 is a well-oiled, much organized and prepared BJP juggernaut, which boasts of 272 MPs (excluding allies) in the Lok Sabha now.
If Congress hopes to win the Lok Sabha elections in 2019, it has to iron out the creases in its strategy, shake off lethargy, avoid delays in taking decisions at the right time. It can't afford to be ignorant about the pulse of people like the way it handled MP and Rajasthan. Moreover, the present results may create complications for forging tie-ups with other parties in 2019. With more states in its kitty, the Congress may be tempted to insist on calling the shots on their turfs. The saffron party will be more than willing to fish in troubled waters then.
Rahul and Co should also keep in mind that the BSP in 2017 elections had 22 per cent vote share in Uttar Pradesh and it was the second largest party in the state even though it managed to win only 19 seats. Political pundits say the party which wins Uttar Pradesh, where 80 seats are at stake, wins the Lok Sabha.
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