Son of the soil Narendra Modi who pulled out all the stops and was the BJP's only campaign issue pulled off a fifth consecutive win in Gujarat while the Congress lost as predicted in Himachal Pradesh. But the boastful "Mission 150", repeated again and again
as a challenge by Modi's political doppelgänger and his closest confidante Amit Shah, came a cropper. Though Modi and Shah's stated aim of "Congress-Mukt Bharat"
progressed with the BJP winning Himachal.
A comatose Congress, written off four months ago, fought well under President Rahul Gandhi who perhaps for the first time gave a political campaign his all. The alliance with the three "Gujaratke ladkey"
- the trio of Hardik Patel, Jignesh Mevani and Alpesh Thakor - unlike the ill-starred "UP ke ladkey"
alliance with Akhilesh Yadav of the Samajwadi Party worked well and ensured the Congress was saved some embarrassment though several top Congress leaders in Gujarat were trailing at the time of writing this column.
Both the BJP and the Congress put on a brave face for public consumption but there was plenty of consternation behind the scenes. Rahul Gandhi and the Congress need to keep up the constant influx of talented outsiders such as the Gujarat ke ladkey
because even after three and a half years of Modi's term at the centre, they are simply still not good enough to take on the BJP single-handedly. The Congress leadership had been quietly-bad mouthing Thakor and Mevani. Clearly a big mistake. Gandhi has to ensure fresh blood enters the party and gets leadership status and striking power because state after state remains disenchanted with "entitled dynasts" which is what comprises virtually the entire senior leadership of the Gujarat Congress.
While Gandhi visited a record 29 temples in Gujarat, it did not end his 29-defeats-in a-row. While critics pan Gandhi for indulging in "soft Hindutva" (Finance Minister Arun Jaitley went to the extent of saying voters would prefer the original Hindu party), insiders say that Gandhi is just trying to recalibrate the party's image which is perceived as "anti-Hindu". Said a senior leader, "The BJP has assiduously projected us totally pro minority. And we really don't care about newspaper editorials anymore. We need to win. And we cannot alienate 85 percent of the Hindu vote".
This is also acknowledgement of the fact as to how Modi in just three years of his ascent has changed the rules of the political game completely. All parties now cultivate the Hindu vote openly.
Modi and Shah need to worry as to how a campaign they thought would be a victory march and a triumphant herald of a 2019 sweep forced Modi in to shedding the vikas
mien and openly touting conspiracy theories involving the possibly treasonous conduct of former Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh, former Vice-President Hamid Ansari and former Army Chief Deepak Kapoor. Far from the cake walk originally envisaged by a smug BJP, Modi addressed over 40 rallies, and with a little help from suspended Congress leader Mani Shankar Aiyar and Kapil Sibal, made the campaign about "insults to him" while challenging the Congress with "Do you want a Ram Mandir or not?"
The fact that Modi had to make the Gujarat election about himself indicates that GST, demonetization and rural distress are serious issues and the BJP needs to address them on a proactive basis. The sharp divide in the rural-urban vote in Gujarat is also a clear marker of this.
Gandhi has lived to fight another day, but his tenure as Congress President starts with two losses. And till he wins his party an election, all the gloss in the world won't change that harsh reality. With a string of elections coming up, the Congress needs to worry about Karnataka, the only large state apart from Punjab that it still rules. Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan will put the BJP on test but, the Congress is still to get its act together. It has inexplicably still not named Sachin Pilot in Rajasthan and Jyotiraditya Scindia in MP as its Chief Ministerial faces and the state units are still locked in intractable squabbles.
The BJP managed to defeat 22 years of incumbency in Gujarat because Modi and Shah gave it their all. Can Gandhi sustain the kind of campaign he ran in Gujarat is a question anxious Congress leaders are asking.
Finally, the Gujarat voters ensured that they sent a message. A party with intelligent political smarts will read it and react quickly. (Swati Chaturvedi is an author and a journalist who has worked with The Indian Express, The Statesman and The Hindustan Times.)Disclaimer: The opinions expressed within this article are the personal opinions of the author. The facts and opinions appearing in the article do not reflect the views of NDTV and NDTV does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.