PM Narendra Modi lost, but Rahul Gandhi did not win

File photo of Congress president Rahul Gandhi (L) and Prime Minister Narendra Modi (R). Photograph:( Zee News Network )

Delhi, India Dec 12, 2018, 11.52 AM (IST) Prabhat Shunglu

The Prime Minister’s exhortation to political parties at the start of the winter session of Parliament to debate issues, bore an extraordinarily friendly tinge. “Let’s debate sharply if you want. Let’s rise above party politics to discuss public issues and have a ‘samwad’, ( dialogue ) he said.

It is hard to read whether that mellowed and fervent appeal from PM Modi reflected his mental turmoil at a time when counting for five state elections were in progress and the BJP seemed to be trailing in all the five states. 

As the trends started pouring in for the five states, it became clear the K Chandrashekhar Rao government was retaining its hold over Telangana and the people wanted Raman Singh and Lal Thanhawla out in Chhattisgarh and Mizoram respectively.

But it were the electoral trends in Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan that kept party workers, supporters and political pundits, guessing through the day. The two states saw a tortuous seesaw battle between the two major contenders – the BJP which was defending its turf in both the states, and the Congress, the principal challenger. 

A few takeaways. Chhattisgarh proved to be a veritable case of voter fatigue. The Congress’s early start to campaigning in the state coupled with populist promises of farm loan waiver proved decisive. The anti-incumbency only rubbed the proverbial salt into Raman Singh’s wounds bringing his juggernaut to a halt. 

Chhattisgarh may well be in the Congress kitty, but there are no less than four contenders for the post of chief minister, including party state unit chief Bhupesh Baghel, the party’s lone MP from Durg, Tamradhwaj Sahu and former leader in last state assembly T S Singh Deo. Former minister Charan Das Mahant is also in the race.

In MP, Congress leaders went into a huddle deliberating each and every result as they poured in. They don’t want the BJP to do a Goa in MP. In such a close contest, the Congress shall prefer a veteran like Kamal Nath over Jyotiraditya to lead the party in the Assembly, in the event of it maintaining the lead and being invited to form the government.

In neighbouring MP, Shivraj Singh proved to be a tough customer, refusing to cede ground to the Congress. As the trend emerged it seemed ‘Mamaji’ could sail through. But by late afternoon, the trends had tipped towards the Congress. It consistently hovered around the mid-way mark of 115, at times even slipping as the BJP caught up to close the gap, keeping the game wide open for either party.

It appears the Congress strategy of not projecting a CM face did not go down well with the voters in a state that had grown familiar with the style and functioning of Chouhan over the last decade-and-a-half. His ‘personal touch’ with constituents is now legendary. This only shrunk Congress’s lead.

Even in Rajasthan, the party fell short of its own expectations. The state alternates between the Congress and the BJP. The BJP had returned to power in 2013 with more than three-fourth majority. By evening, the Congress barely crossed the halfway mark on Tuesday, as the trend showed BJP losing half of its seats. 

As in other states, the Congress had not projected any CM face and had relied on the ingeniousness of a veteran like Ashok Gehlot and a young colt like Sachin Pilot, heading the party in the state.  But the ticket distribution triggered rebellion in the party. The trends showed 25 ‘Others’ leading in their respective constituencies. Later it turned out, many of these ‘Others’ were Congress rebels. Gehlot seems to have an edge over Pilot in the race for chief ministership.

The Congress went alone in both these states, failing to strike an alliance with the Bahujan Samaj Party. And this could have led to party’s less than bright showing in the state.

With Mizoram having slipped from the Congress kitty, the BJP has partly realised its dream of a Congress-mukt North-East, though the BJP barely managed to win a single seat. 

The BJP was handed a drubbing in Telangana, where voters rejected brand Hindutva. The BJP did everything it could to polarise the elections by pitching Yogi Adityanath as star campaigner in the last leg. Yogi’s acerbic utterances in Hyderabad boomeranged on the party. Modi lost, but Rahul did not win. Congress’s Hindu card and its recent flirtation with religiosity did not yield results. 

In fact, the monster of demonetisation followed by clumsy execution of GST only weighed heavily on the three BJP chief ministers, as they geared for campaigning at the start of the elections. Posters and banners bore images of chief ministers, rather than Prime Minister Modi. Agrarian distress coupled with shrinking job avenues did not help matters.

The state election results have proved that the BJP’s hypothesis of delivering a Congress-mukt Bharat had no firm basis. If at all, the BJP needs Congress for its survival and vice-versa. 

The election results may give Rahul more heft in the Mahagathbandhan, if it firms up, but it has also underlined that if he fails to stitch up strategic alliances he shall be a loser nonetheless.
 

(This article was originally published on DNA. Read the original article)

(Disclaimer: The opinions expressed above are the personal views of the author and do not reflect the views of ZMCL)

Prabhat Shunglu

 The writer is a senior journalist and author

Story highlights

Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh a tortuous seesaw battle between the two major contenders – the BJP which was defending its turf in both the states, and the Congress, the principal challenger.