New Delhi: The chalky Lutyens' pillars and grazed lawns of 24 Akbar Road could have stood wearing a smog of grey gloom. But at the Congress headquarters in the capital, people seemed to have regained the energy to stand up and get back into the game. The Grand Old Party secured 80 out of 182 seats in the Gujarat Assembly Elections, while the Bharatiya Janata Party, which has been in power in Gujarat for the last 22 years, stopped short of a three-digit figure.
This victory comes two days after Rahul Gandhi was sworn in as president of the Congress party. Outside the premises was a large poster of him next to the slogan ‘Rahul tum sangharsh karo, hum tumhaare saath hain (Fight on Rahul, we are with you)’. What’s evident from the mood is the Congress’ realisation that there is a need to fight back now, especially now when the party only has governments in five states. Today, it has lost Himachal Pradesh, where the BJP won 17 seats and was ahead in 27 seats while the Congress won 10 and was ahead in 11 in the 68-member house.
"The Congress party led a very energetic, positive and dignified campaign for the welfare of 6.4 crore Gujaratis and sent a signal to the nation that the Congress is battle-ready under the leadership of Rahul Gandhi. We were hoping we’d win by a good margin. We are disappointed but not demoralised. A little bit more focus is needed on organisational skills to bring our hardcore voter to vote and lot more introspection needs to be done,” said Jaiveer Shergill, a practising lawyer at the Supreme Court and the member of the Congress. Party workers from across the state, from Chattisgarh, Haryana, Jharkhand, Rajasthan, Odisha, could be seen talking about the party finding its footing, using phrases like ‘hamari bhi jeet hui hai (this is as much our victory)’
Ahead of BJP's parliamentary board meeting a month ago, party president Amit Shah had predicted that his party would nab 150 seats. The confidence displayed by Shah is being perceived as arrogance by the opposition.
“I want to ask Amit Shah what happened to his speculations. Ever since Rahul Gandhi took on the mantle, the nervousness of the BJP has become quite clear. They have failed to keep their promises. Hidden in this defeat is a victory of the common man and the poor,” said All India Congress Committee member Noorie Khan.
Pointing to the increase in vote share was Ajoy Kumar, a former Indian Police Service (IPS) officer, elected as member of Parliament in the 15th Lok Sabha, from the Jamshedpur Lok Sabha constituency. In 2012, the difference in vote share between the two parties was a meagre 9 percent, after BJP polled 47.9 percent votes against the Congress’ 38.9 percent. This time around, as the Election Commission has stated, the BJP’s vote share stood at 49.1 percent and the Congress finished off at 41.4 percent. In the state whose development model set the ball rolling for Modi’s prime ministerial campaign of 2014, the gap now has been reduced to 7.7 percent.
“We have seen a huge upswing in the Congress vote share. In the case of around 20 seats, the margin is between 500 and 1,000 and in rural areas, it has increased by 9 percent. Gandhi’s positive campaign has taught the BJP bastion a lesson but leaders at the district and state levels still need to work harder on organisational skills,” Kumar said. That the Congress’ network of ground workers must be strengthened is evident from the direction the tribal loyalties have swung towards. The Congress had won 16 of the 27 reserved ST seats in the state in 2012, having consolidated its vote share and seat tally in the tribal belt.
The Vishwa Hindu Parishad runs Ekal Vidyalayas (one teacher schools) and Gareeb Kalyan Melas, where cycles and clothes are distributed to the poor, in the belt that stretches from Ambaji in Banaskantha district in the north to Ahwa in Dang district in the south. During the floods in July, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) cadres were active in over a hundred villages of the affected Banaskantha, Patan and Radhanpur areas of North Gujarat. Gandhian environmentalist Ashok Chaudhary and Amarsinh Zinabhai Chaudhary, member of the parliament from 1971 to 1977, both from the tribal belt, had told Firstpost that the Congress is forgetting its old pro-poor economic policies and getting commercialised. They had blamed the Congress for not nurturing its front organisation, the Seva Dal. BJP candidates have been elected as MLAs on tribal seats like Umbergaon and Dharampur.
The Congress’ backed Dalit rights activist Jignesh Mevani, who won from Vagdam on an independent seat, and leader from the OBC community Alpesh Thakore who won from Radhanpur, one of the largest constituencies in Gujarat. The third, most important face too young to even contest was Hardik Patel, mobilising the Patidars against the ruling dispensation. In 2012, BJP had dominated Saurashtra-Kutch region by winning 35 of the 54 seats. In 2017, the Congress has won in 30 seats in the Saurashtra-Kutch region while BJP has won in 23 seats.
“Three months prior to the election, we weren’t sure of winning 40 to 45 seats. Rahul Gandhi has led from the front and these new leaders have inspired us,” said Mohd Shoaib, member of the Professionals’ Congress. Shoiab talked about the fresh change in the narrative the new leadership is ushering in.
In conversation with Firstpost, Mevani had said that the time has come for the poor Dalit masses and the Dalit youth to come up with fresh ideas and a different language and ditch the typical rhetoric of bhramanvaad murdaabad to focus on real, material issues instead. Real issues like, for instance, that Gujarat’s prestigious Maharaja Sayajirao University (in Vadodara) has more than 700 vacant sanctioned teaching posts or that the district of Narmada, where the Statue of Unity is being constructed, doesn’t have a single ICU.
Outside the premises, some Congress workers were calling the Election Commission a puppet of the BJP, stating that they’d take the message of faulty EVMs to villages across the country. But inside, there was no talk of faulty EVMs. In fact, the spokespersons and young members hailed Gandhi for taking action against those who tried to sully the dignity of his campaign by hurling cuss words at the prime minister.
“We accept the verdict given the people of Gujarat with humility. Compared to the 2014 results when the BJP won hands down winning 26 out of 26 seats and the BJP took the lead in 165 seats, the Congress has done well," said Shobha Oza, former All India Mahila Congress chief. She concluded that the Congress is ready to give the BJP a befitting defeat in 2019.
As the Congress sees it, not every defeat is a loss. Least of all, this one.
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Updated Date: Dec 18, 2017 22:43:26 IST