The Congress under Rahul Gandhi’s leadership has tasted its first great success in the Hindi heartland since the 2009 LS elections when Congress swept Rajasthan, Haryana, Uttarakhand and notched an impressive 21 seats in Uttar Pradesh. Back in 2009 too, those election results had also been hailed as the ‘coming of age’ of Rahul Gandhi.
The Congress camp must be jubilant as it has been under the hammer for the last 54 months and has got into the winning ways after a long time. While the Congress won comprehensively in Chhattisgarh, it barely scraped through in Madhya Pradesh and did not exactly steam roll the BJP in Rajasthan as was widely expected, falling short of a simple majority by 1 seat.
However, for a party which was taken to the cleaners by the voters for the last 4 years and a half years, victory in the 3 states just ahead of 2019 is a welcome sign for the party. The biggest takeaway for the Congress and Rahul Gandhi is that they must believe they have halted the Modi juggernaut going into 2019.
It remains to be seen if they can rise above the parallel power centres in the 3 states and deliver good governance as they would also be judged by their governance model.
The Congress has chosen the old guard over youth in both Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh, as Ashok Gehlot and Kamal Nath were chosen to head the governments over Pilot and Scindia after much deliberations. Will this weave away the young voter from the Congress or will it prove to be a wise decision, only time will tell.
Rahul Gandhi, who has had a string of defeats in the last few years, will take heart and solace from these victories as it will increase his stock within his party, and more importantly amongst other opposition parties with which the Congress wants to align ahead of 2019.
The family huddle of the Gandhis where Priyanka was also present when the deliberations for selecting the CM candidates for Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh were going on and the prevalence of the old guard over the new has raised doubts whether Rahul is a lame-duck President.
The crux of the matter is that Congress will have to convert these 3 state victories into Lok Sabha wins as 65 seats are up for grabs in these 3 states and Congress would be eyeing a sizeable chunk of these seats to increase its tally in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections and be in a position to influence its would be allies.
But the task is daunting as in the other 2 states in the Hindi heartland, namely UP and Bihar, Congress has a marginal presence and 120 seats in these 2 states will make or mar the career of political parties as they account for 22% of the seats in the lower house.
The Congress will have to vastly improve its performance in these 2 states and be in a position to align with SP and BSP in UP and RJD in Bihar if it harbours any thoughts of coming back to power.
The Congress’ performance in the South in 2014 was abysmal as it managed to win only 19 seats out of 131 on offer beyond the Vindhyas, drawing a blank in Andhra and Tamil Nadu. It will have to improve its performance in the South if it has to improve its tally substantially and be in a solid bargaining position .
The oldest national party of the country will have to get a minimum of 180 seats on its own to emerge as a dominant player and be able to throw its weight around in the Mahagatbhandan if at all it takes shape.
The intricacies involved in stitching together a coalition can be gauged from the fact that while DMK’s Stalin gave a call for making Rahul Gandhi as the PM candidate, it was vehemently opposed by the likes of Chandababu Naidu, Mamta & Mayawati.
Having said that, the victory in these 3 states for the Congress could act as a glue in bonding a plethora of regional parties with different ideologies to come under one umbrella.
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