Could the Congress Be Inching Closer to a Winning Formula?


Could the Congress Be Inching Closer to a Winning Formula?

Illustration: Akshita Monga/Arré

In the end, shockingly, the Gujarat election results didn’t turn out to be what #hypemedia consumers and Yogendra Yadav had predicted. The BJP romped home with 99 out of 182 seats, Mr Modi’s charisma hitting yet another home run. The BJP will yet again form the government in Gujarat, even after 22 years of ruling the state casually referred to as the “Hindutva Laboratory of India”.

Hindsight is always 20/20, but the BJP taking the home state of the most popular and magnetic Indian leader since Indira Gandhi was a given. However from the wreckage of PM Modi’s Hindutva blitzkrieg, the Congress, fascinatingly, led by the newly coronated Rahul Gandhi, has projected a well laid-out grievance redressal system for those tired of bad implementation of economic policies like GST or demonetisation, and those tired of neech polarisation.

I don’t know whether Rahul read The Secret or finally looked out of his window, but the Clown Prince of Indian Politics genuinely came well-prepared this time. The Congress came to the Gujarat election armed with a formula, which, if scaled to the national level, may yet be able to counter the BJP juggernaut.

By now, it is well-documented that the Congress aimed to build a vote bank of Dalit, OBC, and anti-incumbent economically hurt Gujjus. But knowing that it was impossible to ignore the nearly 85 per cent Hindu vote, Gandhi focused on countering the BJP’s image as the only Hindu party, by visiting over 25 temples and wearing a janeu to prove his Hinduness.

What about the Muslim vote? Let’s not go there.

To garner the distressed Gujju support, the Congress tapped in to Hardik Patel of the Patidar movement; Jignesh Mevani, the face of the Dalit uprising in Una; and OBC leader Alpesh Thakor. Rahul stayed out of local issues, letting the three “Gujarat ke ladke”, who are unusually charismatic, slug it out with the BJP on the streets, while backing them up with Congress’ election machinery. Rahul Gandhi supported them from a distance, rarely appearing in public with them (only Alpesh joined the Congress, Jignesh ran as an independent), keeping the Congress stench of losing away from the troika. And despite usual BJP ass-kissing from big media, Rahul blitzed the local forums, bringing together those angered by GST, promising a “True GST” with only one slab of 18 per cent. What about the Muslim vote? Let’s not go there.

The result? Well, defeat really. But a different quality of defeat.

The massive chasm in the vote bank, where the BJP took the Hindu urban vote, but widespread agrarian distress, and this government’s failure to improve job creation meant they struggled massively in rural Gujarat. But the state is a top-tier Indian region when it comes to urbanisation, and if the urban vote forms the BJP’s core majority, this might not bode well for other elections in other states which skew rural.

Yet, it’s hardly possible to predict these things when career psephologists get them wrong.

The next big elections on the horizon are Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh, where the Congress has perhaps two of its most important leaders in the long term — Sachin Pilot in Rajasthan and Jyotiraditya Scindia in MP young guns ready to wrest the Grand Old Party from the stained likes of Kapil Sibal and P Chidambaram. Rajasthan is fast emerging as BJP’s “New Hindutva Lab”, with lynchings and murders every other day. But it’s MP where the Congress has a small hope of riding with an ascendant Scindia, on the back of a three-term anti-incumbency for the BJP.

The BJP’s freshness has steadily been turning stale. But with a new formula of youth leaders, mixed with oppressed minorities, with a dash of distressed Hindus, the Congress has showed they might still have some fight left.

They’ll face the acid test in April next year when Karnataka, where the Congress already has a government, goes to polls. Will they defend it successfully? Or buoyed by the rise in vote share in Gujarat, fall prey to overconfidence?