There is a tide in the affairs of a nation, which, taken at the flood, leads to political fortune. If Rahul Gandhi remembers what Shakespeare said in Julius Caesar, he would see in the results of Gurdaspur by-election, an opportunity to revive the Congress, lead a bold march to political fortunes.
The Congress victory in Punjab is extremely significant. Not only has the party won a seat that had become a BJP bastion, it has done so by a record margin of over 1,90,000 votes. Compared to 2014, when Vinod Khanna had won by nearly 1,40,000 votes, the Congress gained the support of nearly 3.5 lakh voters, implying a huge swing away from the BJP. This should give the Congress not just consolation but remind it that voters have put on hold Prime Minister Narendra Modi's dream of a Congress-mukt Bharat.
Gurdaspur is on the Punjab-Jammu border. It has a significant presence of Sikhs and Hindus. Over the past few years, it has emerged as a business centre for people of both the states. The BJP's defeat in a constituency dominated by Hindus, Sikhs and businessmen shows the political tide in the country is turning.
Though the government has failed to acknowledge it — and it will regret this soon — there is a churn in public opinion. The economy is in the middle of a downturn, unemployment is on the rise, most of the businesses are facing tough challenges because of GST and demonetisation. There is no sign of the promised achche din and, as a consequence, voters are in a mood to re-evaluate the government's performance.
Modi's phenomenal rise in 2014 was primarily because of a huge wave of optimism around him, the belief that he would change the lives of Indians with his vision and policies. That hope is now being replaced by pessimism, the realisation that this is a government of the slogans, by the slogans and for a few more slogans. This angst is reflected in public opinion, bypolls and elections to student unions in major universities, where the BJP's youth wing is being rejected from Delhi to Allahabad.
Because of its hubris, the leadership's reluctance to accept its mistakes or back down, the BJP has fallen into the trap of comparing itself with the previous regime, arguing that whatever is wrong today has precedence. But, the voter did not elect Modi just to be reminded of the past and how the government is a prisoner of it.
The other major development is the demise of the AAP in Punjab, suggesting that politics in north India is set to become bi-polar again, a straight fight between the BJP and the Congress. There was a time when AAP seemed ready to expand its base, replace the Congress. That moment is now gone.
But, is the Congress capable of taking it at the flood?
The bigger tests for the Congress would come soon. First in Himachal Pradesh and then in Gujarat. Simultaneously, there would be bypolls also in key northern states like Rajasthan. But, in these states, it would not have some of the luxuries it enjoyed in Punjab.
One of the key factors behind the Congress win in Punjab is the presence of an undisputed leader in Captain Amarinder Singh. Since the Assembly elections in Punjab earlier this year, Singh has emerged as the numero uno in both the Congress and the state.
But, in Gujarat and Rajasthan, where polls and bypolls are due next, the Congress is grappling with leadership issues. In Gujarat it doesn't have a single leader whose name evokes enthusiasm among voters. Shaktisinh Gohil and Bharat Solanki — its current public faces — lack the heft of the BJP stalwarts from Gujarat. So, in spite of the anger among traders, Dalits and Patidars, it is difficult to see how the Congress will gain in Gujarat. Who will resist the onslaught when Modi himself enters the fray and seeks vote in his own name?
In Rajasthan, there is no clarity among Congress cadres about who would lead the party. They are divided between Sachin Pilot, the current state unit chief, and the Ashok Gehlot-CP Joshi camp that dominated state politics till recently. The effects of this slugfest would be visible in the by-elections for Ajmer and Alwar Lok Sabha constituencies, due soon because of the demise of the incumbent BJP parliamentarians.
Ajmer is Pilot's constituency. Alwar is the pocketborough of Rahul Gandhi's friend and adviser Bhanwar Jitendra Singh. Both will have no option but to contest the by-election, since giving someone else the opportunity just a few months before the General Elections would be political suicide. But, the biggest worry in the Congress is if both lose the election, it would be a huge setback to both of them and a major embarrassment for the party.
Add to this crisis of leadership, the anti-incumbency in Himachal threatens to dampen the post-Gurdaspur euphoria in the Congress. If it fails to address the challenges within, the party would find that unable to take the tide of unrest and anger among voters at the flood, it drowned in it.
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Updated Date: Oct 16, 2017 13:53:16 IST