“Aap mujhe 18 December ki raat me 12 baje phone kar ke puch lena ki 150 target zyada tha ki nahi tha.”
With these words Amit Shah, BJP President and chief strategist, had begun his party’s campaign for Gujarat some weeks ago. A state which the BJP has been governing for over two decades and which, in this election, was a clear prestige battle for him as well as PM Modi as both belong to the state. Simultaneously, they were dismissive of the Opposition, as they reiterated their ‘Congress Mukt Bharat’ rhetoric.
Today, however, this Opposition which Amit Shah mocked, has given them a strong fight in their very own backyard by reducing them to around 100 seats (as I write final results still not declared). The Congress’ spirited campaign managed to take the sheen off the BJP victory and also showed that the Modi model can be challenged. If we get our act together, the BJP can be beaten in 2019.
Of course, any political party campaigns to win, so it is disappointing to see our positive campaign failing to get us those results. A victory in Gujarat would have sent the right message across the nation. It is unfortunate that we could not convert the anti-incumbency into a victory for the party. Needless to add, we will go back to the drawing board to see how we can establish a better connect and get our messaging right.
What are the immediate takeaways for the Congress? First of all, we can take heart from the fact that our vote share has increased, especially since 2014 when we received a drubbing from the state during the Lok Sabha election. Going by that trend, the BJP should have won 160 seats today. But the Congress and its allies have stopped it in its tracks. The only way forward is to build on this momentum further.
Second, Congress president Rahul Gandhi has given a head-on challenge to the Modi-Shah combine in their home, and consistently spoken about the real developmental issues that Gujarat needs – despite 22 years in power. This set the narrative for the campaign. Despite personal attacks from BJP leaders, the Congress president took the high moral ground and demonstrated that nothing could cow him down or distract him from raising his voice against the divisive politics of the BJP. The Congress’ refusal to match slur for slur has shown an increase not just in seats but also the vote share for the party.
The Congress party will focus on all the issues that need to be worked upon once the final results come in, but two areas specifically come to mind : The disconnect with urban voters and the rapid urbanization in the state, as well as the need to build our cadres at the booth level and strengthen the party on the ground.
One thing is for sure, the 2019 contest is wide open. Only a few months ago, this would have led to much mocking, but it is now a reality. We may have been defeated, but the victory in ensuring that BJP got a fight and fright is certainly ours. A famous quote encapsulates the BJP campaign which was shot through with their lies, personal attacks and conspiracy theories:
Maidan ki haar jeet toh muqaddar ki baat hai
Tooti hai talwar kiske haath main woh dekhna
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