NEW DELHI: Prime Minister Narendra Modi's BJP win in his home turf Gujarat was a "moral defeat" for the ruling party that targeted around 150 seats but will make the next government with 99 seats, Ahmed Patel, the 68-year-old top strategist of the Congress told NDTV. He suggested that the Congress, which delivered its best performance in the state's assembly elections since 1990, had done very well in the first of the two-phase elections, but the party's chances were dented due to PM Modi's aggressive campaign in the second phase, particularly what the Congress leader described as a blatant attempt to polarise the elections.
But Mr Patel also hinted the Gujarat election was a missed opportunity for the Congress.
The top aide of the outgoing Congress president counted distribution of party tickets in some seats due to pressure from allies and poor booth management in some others as two reasons why the Congress wasn't close to the half-way mark in the 182 seat assembly.
The Congress ended up with 77 against the BJP's 99 seats.
"This election was a different type of election. It was ... total anti-incumbency was there," the former Congress president Sonia Gandhi's political secretary said.
"We could have exploited it (anti-incumbency) in a better way. Unfortunately, (we lost) in a few of the districts because of booth management. We could have won 8-10 (more) seats and even form the government," Mr Patel lamented in an exclusive interview.
He also underlined that the party had lost a few constituencies due to the last-minute allocation of tickets to the Congress' new allies. "There would have been pressure from alliance partner to give such and such seat where our candidate could have been a stronger candidate," he said, a reference to the party moving its strong candidate Raghu Desai to Viramgam to make space for Alpesh Thakore in Radhanpur.
Alpesh Thakor, the backward caste leader recruited ahead of the polls to try and win the support of the state's 30 per cent OBCs or Other Backward Castes, did win the seat. But Raghu Desai lost.
The Congress leader, however, stressed that the Congress wasn't the only one to make mistakes in an election and the BJP too would have made a few mistakes.
But apart from crediting the BJP's much-superior booth management in part for its sixth straight victory, the Congress leader also blamed PM Modi's polarising campaign in the second phase for the poll outcome.
Mr Patel said the election in Gujarat, the home state of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP President Amit Shah, was a battle for prestige for them.
In August, the former Congress president's political advisor had seen what it was to be on their wrong side when the two Gujarat leaders set their eyes on the Rajya Sabha seat he tried to get re-elected from. Ahmed Patel did win the seat eventually but had then acknowledged he had never seen "such a tense and bitter election battle".
Four months later, the Congress leader again spoke about the BJP's two chief strategist and star campaigner determined push in the assembly elections. But the 99 seats that the BJP had ended up with, Mr Patel said, was still a "moral defeat" given how PM Modi and Union Cabinet had camped in Gujarat for the campaign.