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How Congress frittered away its 2017 Gujarat gains: steady defections, no one face

Congress lost voter trust with defections over last few years; failed to gauge AAP effect in Gujarat, say state leaders

Deserted: Congress office in Ahmedabad, Thursday. (Express Photo)
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For the Congress, more than issues that the BJP attacked it for — Medha Patkar joining the Bharat Jodo Yatra, or the “aukat” and “Raavan” remarks by its leaders against Prime Minister Narendra Modi, among others — it was the perception that the “Congress MLA is an easy defector” that sealed the party’s fate, say Congress leaders.

As the party nursed the wounds after its worst defeat, and stared at a bleak future in Gujarat, finishing with just 17 seats and a vote share of 27%, Congress general secretary in charge of the state, Raghu Sharma, resigned on Thursday even as the results came in.

“We lost the confidence of the voter, who was not sure that if he or she voted for our candidate, whether the latter would stay with the party,” said a national Congress leader.

This perception was reinforced by Arvind Kejriwal, who kept emphasising in his campaign that a vote to the Congress is a vote “wasted” — that a Congress MLA, the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) chief maintained, would eventually join BJP.

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This trend of defection, which began ahead of the 2017 Assembly elections, when nearly a dozen Congress MLAs joined BJP, continued even in 2022. In the end, at least 19 former Congressmen got BJP tickets this time, with many finishing winners.

Thus, the party could neither secure the seats in the tribal belt nor win the minority-dominated constituencies.

Besides the nagging faults — such as factionalism, a late and low-key campaign lacking imagination, and a shoestring budget — the Congress leadership failed to gauge the damage that AAP was to cause it. “The AAP took away many of our votes. It was a party without baggage, while we have so much of it,” a senior Congress leader said. This leader credited AAP for talking about the “basic issues”, which, he said, Congress failed to raise.

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Besides bagging five, AAP finished second on 34 seats, and a vote share of 12%.

Among the major losers from the Congress were Leader of Opposition Sukhram Rathwa, former Leader of Opposition Paresh Dhanani, four-term MLA from Muslim-dominated Dariapur constituency Gyasuddin Shaikh, and Punaji Gamit from the Christian-dominated Vyara seat.

The one gain was the Porbandar seat, won by former state unit president Arjun Modhwadia.

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Asked about reasons for the party notching its lowest vote share ever in Gujarat, state Congress chief Jagdish Thakor, who called the results “shocking”, said: “These will be discussed. There are not one or two reasons for an electoral victory or defeat. It is also not the case that there is love for BJP (among people).”

In the end, he said, peoples’ vote is important in a democracy. “The Congress fought hard, but we failed…. These results indicate that. I congratulate those who are going to form the government,” he said.

State congress spokesperson Manish Doshi said, “The results are very unexpected. People heard us and expressed their support, too, but that did not convert into votes. The party will evaluate the central and well as state election strategy and assess the results. However, whatever responsibility the people gave us, we will serve with dedication.”

First published on: 09-12-2022 at 08:00 IST
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