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Gujarat election results: In close defeat for Congress, a win for Rahul Gandhi

Gujarat was the first real test for Rahul Gandhi, who took over the reins of the 132-year-old party last week, and a good show has given a sound start to his new innings.

india Updated: Dec 19, 2017 08:01 IST
Aurangzeb Naqshbandi
Aurangzeb Naqshbandi
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
Gujarat election results,Gujarat election polls,Gujarat election
Congress President Rahul Gandhi is greeted by supporters at a a rally in Nari Chokdi, Bhavnagar, Gujarat.(PTI File Photo)

The Congress failed to dethrone the BJP in Gujarat but a creditable performance on Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s home turf is a boost for its newly-elected president Rahul Gandhi. Party leaders hailed it as validation of the Congress president’s leadership qualities and organisational skills.

At the end of the counting of votes in perhaps the most crucial electoral battle after the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, the Congress not only significantly increased its tally and vote share but also restricted the BJP below the three-digit figure in the 182-member assembly.

The Congress won 77 seats, up 16 from 2012, and secured 41.4% of the votes polled, which was about two percentage points more than its share in the previous assembly elections.

In the absence of a credible local face, the 47-year-old Rahul spearheaded the party’s campaign, crisscrossing the western state for more than two months. During 22 days of campaigning that started on September 25, he addressed nearly 150 rallies and corner meetings. He also managed to stitch important alliances with Patidar face Hardik Patel and OBC leader Alpesh Thakor.

An agile, re-energised Congress performed well, particularly in Saurashtra and north Gujarat, despite organisational weaknesses that had prompted the party to hire people for booth-level management in almost all the 182 constituencies.

As results started coming in, former Congress president Sonia Gandhi and her daughter Priyanka Gandhi Vadra met Rahul, who later left for Parliament.

Accepting the verdict, Rahul tweeted, “My Congress brothers and sisters, you have made me very proud. You are different than those you fought because you fought anger with dignity. You have demonstrated to everyone that the Congress’ greatest strength is its decency and courage.” The remarks were an apparent reference to the vitriolic poll campaign witnessed during the elections.

Gujarat was the first real test for Rahul, who took over the reins of the 132-year-old party last week, and a good show has given a sound start to his new innings. The loss in Himachal Pradesh was not unexpected, given that it is traditionally a swing state where the government changes after every five years.

Congress leaders virtually jostled to give Rahul credit for the improved performance in Gujarat, where the party has been out of power since 1998.

“Rahul Gandhi ran a very nice and positive campaign. Whatever the results, the country will see this as the Congress’s victory,” said Ashok Gehlot, party general secretary in charge of Gujarat.

Other leaders such as Kamal Nath, Shashi Tharoor and Renuka Chowdary insisted that the improved performance in Gujarat was the result of Rahul’s effective leadership and the beginning of his political story.

Political analysts said while it would have been unrealistic to expect the Congress to win Gujarat, the results have shown that Modi’s home state is no longer “a BJP fort” that cannot be breached.

Rahul Gandhi is garlanded by supporters during an election campaign meeting before the second phase of Gujarat assembly elections, in Dakor. (Reuters Photo)

“This election has proved that Gujarat is not a forbidden territory anymore. The difference between 100 and 80 is not much. It could have been anybody’s game,” said former Jawaharlal Nehru University Professor Mridula Mukherjee.

The next stop for Rahul will be the four northeastern states of Meghalaya, Nagaland, and Tripura before the crucial elections in Karnataka in March-April next year, when the BJP will try its best to wrest the state from the Congress.

Mukherjee said Rahul needs to start early and build alliances at regional and national levels to give a fight to Modi in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. “He has to start right now, get everybody on board, put up a credible alternative, give a new narrative and get the whole story going, in which then people begin to see a popular alternative,” she said, pointing out that Rahul will have to match his mother’s skills to stitch together a difficult coalition, as seen in 2004 when she managed to get the support of Left parties despite ideological differences to form the UPA government.

First Published: Dec 19, 2017 07:45 IST