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Map of India Modi-fied
BJP retains Gujarat, sweeps Himachal Pradesh to rule 19 States of the country
Clearly, to turn around the one-liner on Rahul Gandhi which went viral a couple of years ago, ‘Modi pass ho gaya’. As for the Congress, the only talking point has to be: Is the party's improved performance in Gujarat enough to give its supporters hope that the party has got what it takes not to become electorally passé? The assertion and the question in the previous two sentences assume political significance because in all the media commentary on the BJP's hard-fought win in Gujarat for the sixth consecutive time, a record bested only by the Left Front in West Bengal which won seven Assembly polls on the trot, and its overwhelming victory in Himachal Pradesh, what has not been discussed enough is that winning an Opposition-ruled State is one thing but retaining one's own bastion can be quite another.
For, Goa and Punjab, where the BJP was ruling albeit as a junior partner in a coalition with the Akali Dal, were both lost by the BJP (though it cobbled together a coalition in the former to deny the single largest party, the Congress, the government) so Gujarat is really the first State that the BJP has retained decisively post its 2014 General Election triumph and the advent of the Modi Wave. Given that the State is also the native place of Narendra Modi, a loss would have left the BJP dealing with incalculable political damage. Insiders know that it is only the Prime Minister's emotional campaign on home ground over the past few weeks reminding voters of the very real development that has touched their lives, backed by the organisational election machinery honed by BJP president Amit Shah, which came through for the party.
The political import of the win can therefore not be underestimated, because it sends out the message that the Prime Minister meant it when he said he would continue to take tough decisions in the interests of the country even if there was a (political-electoral) price to be paid. With BJP-ruled Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh among the major States scheduled to go to polls next year, with the latter two having had the same Chief Minister for multiple terms, the lessons from the Gujarat win are there for the party to learn from and if it is so inclined. The rout of the Congress in Himachal Pradesh was very much on the cards though the shock defeat of the BJP's declared candidate for Chief Minister PK Dhumal is yet another pointer that while the party is still the frontrunner for 2019, it has to look at what's happening within too. While Modi must pick his own team, naturally, diverse views in the party need to be respected and more importantly a wider inner-party engagement for inputs would be beneficial for the BJP.
The bottom line, however, is that the win in Gujarat along with the sweep in Himachal Pradesh means the BJP now has with governments in as many as 19 States making India very substantially if not wholly Congress-mukt. As for the Congress, Rahul Gandhi worked hard on the Gujarat campaign and made the BJP sweat, gave up on Himachal Pradesh pretty early on, and has yet to generate confidence in the people that his acceptance of an Indic political idiom was not just for votes in Gujarat or that he has an alternative vision for Indian prosperity rooted in her exceptionalism. No amount of simpatico sentiment on social media and among the English-speaking classes will help him unless he helps himself, and he can start by disassociating himself from the 'electoral rainmaker' image that has traditionally been bestowed upon the Nehru-Gandhi family because the India he operates in has changed fundamentally.
Hard, persistent and honest work that produces tangible results for them is what voters expect from leaders today. It would in his party's interest if he forgot about the EVM row and focussed instead on fixing the OVM (Organisationally Very Mediocre) party, as it were. Who knows, if the Congress organisation had not been in the shambles it was in Gujarat and had managed to get voters to the booth in larger numbers, which way the result could have gone given the obvious angst among voters over demonetisation, GST implementation, employment generation, the Patidar agitation and agriculture sector unrest. Rahul also needs to make a concerted effort to break from the pattern set by his grandmother Indira Gandhi and followed by his mother Sonia Gandhi and look instead to the regional leadership promoted by his father Rajiv Gandhi instead, who, despite not having many years at the top, did manage to build a State-level leadership in the Congress — from YSR in Andhra Pradesh to Digvijay Singh in Madhya Pradesh and more — now that he is in full command as Congress president. Last but not least, he needs to realistically focus on 2024.
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