Cong must learn from Gujarat
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Cong must learn from Gujarat

For Congress, BJP's landslide victory in Gujarat is nothing short of a political earthquake. Its pre-poll surveys had said BJP will be contained, if not defeated.

india Updated: Dec 16, 2002 01:07 IST

For the Congress, the BJP's landslide victory in Gujarat is nothing short of a political earthquake. On the basis of in-house pre-poll surveys, its leadership had hoped to contain, if not defeat, the saffron party.

For this reason alone, Narendra Modi's emergence as the Sangh Parivar's newest Hindutva face is at once a lesson and a warning for the Opposition party.

On polling day, the CM alone had exuded the confidence that escaped some of his most trusted poll managers. Even as the Congress failed to retain the 53 seats it had in the dissolved assembly, Modi kept his word by posting an "abhootpurv" (unprecedented) tally of 126, surpassing the BJP's 1995 record of 121.

But for the Congress, the loss of three assembly by-polls in Rajasthan should be more unsettling than the loss in Gujarat.

Besides MP and Maharashtra, Rajasthan is the third Congress-ruled state adjoining Gujarat. Even if Modi restricts his political ambitions to his home base, the Parivar's ever-mobile minstrels — the VHP, the Bajrang Dal and the tribal-centric Vanvasi Kalyan Parishad — are bound to attempt building bigger beachheads in states where Hindutva is already a popular theme.

Indeed, the Gujarat results are too shocking for an instant stock-taking by the Congress. But in the weeks to follow, Sonia Gandhi might be forced to consider organisational and leadership changes in Delhi, MP, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh, where polls are due in late 2003 and early 2004.

A repeat of Gujarat in these states — not to speak of Himachal where the new assembly has to be in place early next year — could encourage the BJP-NDA to risk early Lok Sabha polls.

Barring the BJP-ruled Himachal, in the remaining states the anti-incumbency baggage would only compound the Congress' predicament. The Gujarat verdict has also raised doubts about the party's ability to single-handedly fight the Parivar.

While the Congress' spin doctors might be right in claiming that the Parivar cannot easily recreate the Hindutva soiree in other states, the party's campaign in Gujarat was significant only for its lack of aggression or attractive talking points.

It did little to question Modi's monopoly of the fight against terror in the state which was never a hot-bed of cross-border violence till Akshardham happened.

Under the BJP, Gujarat always was, and remained, the terrorists' favourite transit point for export of weapons and explosives to other parts of India. But this aspect of the Pakistani threat, which Modi persistently flaunted to his advantage, seldom came out in the Congress' poll-time ripostes. The Congress’s selective use of religious symbolism and mythical metaphors lent credibility to the Parivar's claim that the Congress' soft Hindutva marked the demise of secularism.

First Published: Dec 16, 2002 01:07 IST