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Why Congress’ loss in Gujarat is more telling than its win in Himachal

The Bharat Jodo Yatra may help to rebrand Rahul Gandhi, but the Gujarat results have thrown up an important question: Can a political party afford to ignore electoral imperatives? For now, it seems the Congress doesn't have an answer.

In Himachal, less than one per cent vote share separates the winner from the loser.
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The Congress can take some solace in pulling ahead of the BJP in Himachal Pradesh. But victory in the hill state pales when seen in the big picture that emerged starkly on Thursday. The scale of Congress defeat in Gujarat and in Delhi — municipal elections results were announced on Wednesday – is dramatic: In Gujarat, its vote share has fallen steeply while its tally in MCD has come down from 31 wards to a mere 9. These results should force the Congress leadership to reflect on the party’s inexorably shrinking national footprint, ahead of assembly elections due in states including Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh in the next few months.

In Himachal, less than one per cent vote share separates the winner from the loser. Evidently, BJP rebels, anti-incumbency sentiment on issues such as corruption and low apple prices, disgruntlement over Agnipath and the pension scheme, worked against the Jairam Thakur government, and the absence of a third force — the AAP focused on Delhi and Gujarat — laid the ground for Congress in Himachal. The challenge before the party will be to keep its flock together and build a consensus on the chief ministerial candidate. The drastic Congress defeat in Gujarat overshadows the narrow Himachal win — in the high-stakes Gujarat election, the party appeared to give up the fight even before it started. It was busy dealing with a leadership vacuum at the central level at a time when it should have been focusing on the Gujarat campaign. Rahul Gandhi set out on the Bharat Jodo Yatra instead of joining the battle in Gujarat. Party resources that could have been channeled for the election campaign got pulled in to facilitate his yatra. In contrast, newcomer AAP showed a will to fight, pooled in resources from its strongholds to compensate for its lack of organisation in the state and campaigned vigorously. The party has won close to 13 per cent votes and five seats; its rise could further erode Congress’s base in the state.

The decimation in Gujarat — home to 26 Lok Sabha seats — is likely to demoralise Congress cadres elsewhere. The Bharat Jodo Yatra may help to rebrand Rahul Gandhi, but the Gujarat results have thrown up an important question: Can a political party afford to ignore electoral imperatives? For now, it seems the Congress doesn’t have an answer.

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First published on: 09-12-2022 at 06:20 IST
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