The Bharatiya Janata Party surged to a landslide in Rajasthan, retained a massive majority in Madhya Pradesh, hung on to win Chhattisgarh and emerged as the leader in Delhi, even if it was the Aam Aadmi Party that grabbed the capital's imagination.
But while India’s national politics is often seen as an aggregate of what transpires in the states, the four results suggest that this time, national sentiment is perhaps overriding local factors. Some parts of the BJP sweep may be less than convincing but the Congress defeat is unambiguous and resounding.
With general elections at most six months away, the timing couldn’t have been worse for the Congress.
“The direction of the wind is clear. The velocity may change in the next months, but it is only likely to accelerate,” conceded a party functionary.
For the BJP's star campaigner and PM candidate Narendra Modi, who clearly outwitted Rahul Gandhi in the "semi-finals" ahead of the national polls, the task will be to sustain the momentum in the coming months, now that the last voices of dissent within the party will be stilled.
For Congress, the job will be tougher: observers expect Rahul's complete takeover of the party to be delayed, as veterans turn to his mother, party president Sonia, to salvage the situation. Signs of this were visible on Sunday when it was Sonia who led the interaction with the media; she may have to delay any retirement plans. And Rahul may have to rethink his strategy and rope in some veterans who are adept at handling elections.
“Unless he focuses on the immediate, the grand ideas will have no use at all,” says a party functionary who did not want to be named.
Read More: Sonia, Rahul Gandhi say there will be 'deep introspection'
But the chances of Rahul being nominated as the PM candidate have actually risen, as the party sees the need for a fresh face to counter the deadly anti-incumbency factor. It will also have to shed the habit of undercutting regional strongmen, and give its chosen candidates more time and space.
In Rajasthan, Ashok Gehlot was undercut by CP Joshi and in Chhattisgarh, Ajit Jogi by Charandas Mahant. In Madhya Pradesh, Jyotiraditya Scindia was projected far too late.
The Congress would like to believe that the BJP win was not the product of a wave generated by star campaigner and PM candidate Narendra Modi.
“There is no uniform momentum or direction for BJP or Modi. There is no wave,” argued Abhishek Manu Singhvi, Congress spokesperson. In Chhattisgarh, where Modi addressed more than 30 rallies, the BJP could not pull off an easy victory. Nor could it in Delhi.
Read More: Congress lost all seats Rahul visited, BJP won in 16 of 20 places where Modi went in Rajasthan
“Our chief ministerial candidates have been popular and effective. The popularity of our prime ministerial candidate added to it,” said BJP president Rajnath Singh.
The Congress' need to study the results well is underlined by the fact that its governments in Delhi and Rajasthan lost despite a reasonable track record, and the BJP won in MP and Chhattisgarh despite corruption allegations and a poor record in tackling Maoists, respectively. What overrode all this was a national sentiment against the Congress.
Read: No ifs and buts, it’s Modi impact, says BJP as it eyes 2014
“Obviously people are unhappy. We have to deeply introspect,” Congress president Sonia Gandhi said.
As for the regional parties, they will now be tempted to move towards the centre of gravity – which appears to be BJP. Parties such as TDP, AIADMK and Trinamool, who all have been in touch with the BJP and Modi, will find it easier to make up their minds now.
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