As the Dodo said to Alice in the Wonderland, “Everyone has won. All must have prizes.” Gujarat elections gave the BJP its sixth term after 22 years in power and gave the Congress the best result it has had since 2009. One could sense in the days between the first and the second polling that Narendra Modi had smelled the danger, with his unrivalled political sensitivity. He was tireless in those days. BJP president Amit Shah’s work with the tribals and Modi’s whirlwind tour in the final stages delivered the result.
But while we are discussing success, let us remember Sonia Gandhi, who has retired after the longest stint as Congress president. Some future historian will find it incredible that a person could come from a humble background from the harsh lands of North Italy to India, for a fairytale wedding, suffer multiple tragedies, and then come forward to save her husband’s family legacy, and succeed beyond expectations, winning two elections. In 2004, it was Sonia’s campaigning which blew the lights out of India Shining. No one expected and no one noticed her tours through rural India, which garnered votes for the Congress. The BJP won the cities but lost the election.
Fast forward to Gujarat, and the rural-urban divide is still there. Rahul Gandhi surprised everyone by turning in a good performance after 13 years of dismal failure. Rahul followed in Rajiv’s footsteps and abandoned secularism. The Congress realised its limited popularity and sought the help of young leaders of caste-based agitations and took 16 seats off the BJP. Not enough to win but sure to give Modi a warning that 2019 will be a tough fight. The 2G verdict confirms that.
Modi has already begun to campaign in the Northeast. But it will be the elections in Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan in 2018 that will be crucial for 2019. Rajasthan is a vulnerable state for the BJP. Sachin Pilot may start visiting temples any day now. In Madhya Pradesh, the Congress has sorted out the old rivalries between Digvijaya Singh, Kamal Nath and Jyotiraditya Scindia. The younger Congress is taking over.
The Gujarat elections will cast their shadow. The Shiv Sena is already impatient to break away from the NDA. Now that the Congress has abandoned secularism, it could easily be that the Shiv Sena will couple up with the Congress. The Congress will have to come up with its own brand of softer, tolerant Hinduism, but the election will be fought on the BJP’s home turf. Modi has won the ideological battle.
But while temple visits paid dividends for the Congress in Gujarat, it will make the task of building a national coalition against the BJP more difficult. The Left, the Yadav parties, the BSP, AAP and TMC will distance themselves from the Brahminical Rahul. The Opposition will be divided.
The central issue will be Modi and his record. The growth rate has been variable. There is no guarantee that it will be high over the next six quarters. But Modi has launched many transformative schemes — Namami Gange, Swachh Bharat, Smart Cities, Make in India, Mudra and many more. It will be the implementation of these schemes which will be the test of the government’s competence. The Prime Minister has to convince the voters that he can deliver.