The final outcome notwithstanding, the verdict from the three bipolar states of Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh is a please-all verdict, but also one that will leave the two rivals disheartened.
The Bharatiya Janata Party will breath a sigh of relief because its leaders are aware that the results could have been worse. But it will also rue that the results could have been much more positive, especially in Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan, in that order. This could have been achieved by a differently oriented and focussed campaign.
For the Congress, the good news is its return as not just a credible alternative, but also being considered once again as a party of governance in the crucial Hindi heartland. The principal negative for the Grand Old Party under its youthful president who marks his first anniversary at the helm, is that it has failed in converting the visible anti-incumbency against the BJP.
The Congress leaders and supporters will serve their cause by taking a hard look at the preliminary vote share data being updated by the Election Commission. Compared to the figures of 2013, the BJP has lost approximately eight percent of the votes in Rajasthan, seven percent in Madhya Pradesh and a whopping 9.5 percent in Chhattisgarh.
This massive swing away from the BJP however, was not correspondingly converted by the Congress. The swing in its favour in the three states, at the time of writing is: 5.3 percent in Rajasthan, 4.9 percent in Madhya Pradesh and three percent in Chhattisgarh. The party must analyse its inability to convert this advantage.
For the BJP, the campaign had begun on a note of anticipated defeat by a big margin in Rajasthan, a squeaking win in Chhattisgarh and a contest that was difficult to call in Madhya Pradesh. Unlike most states where the BJP is in power, these three states were characterised by strong and popular mass leaders. Barring Rajasthan, the party held back Prime Minister Narendra Modi, undoubtedly its 'Sudarshan chakra' . This was mainly because it did not wish to sully the image of Brand Modi which will be crucial for 2019. There will be satisfaction that his continuing popularity has been established beyond doubt with the party giving a close run to the Congress for much of the counting period.
Yet, the party will have to take a close look at the fall in its popular support and analyse the reasons behind this. The BJP will pay hugely in 2019 if it does not recognise that the vote in the three states is against the politics and policies of the party, irrespective of the final tally and government formation.
Paramount however, for the BJP is to evaluate ways by which it can recover lost ground in barely four months when it faces the electorate in 2019. The BJP had won 62 of the 65 Lok Sabha seats from the three states in 2014 and unless the present swing away is reversed, the results could be disappointing and impact its overall tally considerably.
For the Congress, the issues to ponder are if the verdict could have been more to its benefit if it had firstly, cobbled up alliances with parties and better managed its rebellious flock — at the time of writing, 12 Independent candidates were leading— and secondly, if it had presented an alternative vision of governance in all the states and not depended solely on anti-incumbency sentiment against the BJP.
The main takeaway for the Congress is its return as not just a credible force but also Rahul Gandhi’s emergence as the most important challenger to Modi at the national level. This will make it imperative for Opposition parties, especially those not in direct contest with the Congress, to pursue alliances in a more accommodative spirit. The Congress too will have to adopt a different tack while stitching together alliances in states where it is a dominant player as well as a fringe force.
The certainty regarding 2019 on which there was unanimity after March 2017, is now part of political history. The Lok Sabha contest has become more keen after this round. In a year of taking charge of the Congress, Rahul has steered the party into taking charge of the heart of the Hindi heartland. While this does not make him a front runner for the prime ministerial position as yet, even BJP supporters will grudgingly accept 'Pappu pass ho gaya'.
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Updated Date: Dec 11, 2018 16:49:33 IST