The Congress had waited 55 months for this "ache din" electoral score card. The recent results say the BJP no more is the "Shah" of elections. With a spring in her step, UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi on Tuesday evening reacted to the uprooting of three BJP governments in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh with muted joy. Pointing towards her son and Congress president Rahul Gandhi, she said: "He has worked hard."
5 ASSEMBLY POLLS A TURNING POINT
The polls have set the stage for the 2019. The mandate has derailed the BJP juggernaut and brought in a template that reads, "BJP is not invincible", and barely months before the Lok Sabha polls. Voters in these elections have broken conventions and set precedence, displaying impatience and disenchantment against governments, which failed to address newer complex challenges. For example, if farmers are growing more, then they expect better returns. If others are hit by drought, they expect relief and remedy. One-size-fitsall policies face rejection as socio-economic aspirations dominate.
THE HAND OF THE CONGRESS RISING
The wins have made Congress president a lead player. It provides the Congress the belief that BJP can be defeated and Rahul Gandhi can lead the charge against PM Narendra Modi and present the voters an alternative to him.
Congress may have won just three states, but with the win the grand old party is back in the reckoning as a major force in national politics, benefitting from BJP\'s losses after 55 months of Modi government in power and barely four months ahead of the Lok Sabha polls. Berated by the BJP, its cadres and supporters for years, Rahul grabbed the wins and reacted without much fanfare. With resurgence of the Congress in states and a combined Opposition, it will not be easy for the NDA to win in 2019.
The underlining aspect is the confidence Rahul has earned from the wins, which are a result of anti-incumbency against the BJP government and deft strategy. This places Rahul as a leader with the capability to make old and new generations work together, suppress factionalism and pick the right candidates to defeat the BJP. Coming ahead of the 2019 polls, this will remove the doubts in the minds of Congressmen about Rahul\'s leadership skills and silence his detractors. From here, if the BJP tries to paint him as a "sore dynastic loser", the Congress will have lung power. In almost all states, Modi is way ahead in ratings as PM.
This means Rahul needs to alter voter perceptions about Modi. In Gujarat, Karnataka and the just-concluded polls, Rahul kept his foot on the soft Hindutva pedal. Call for a Ram Mandir by the RSS and saints will test the "Shiv bhakt", "janeudhari" narrative the Congress has been building. To woo upper caste votes, the Congress dumped BSP and SP in MP and Rajasthan.
For getting UP, he has to do business with these parties. This will improve the Congress\' chances of winning new allies and keeping old ones. If Rahul made distress among social destitute and economicallydeprived an issue and the Congress earned their votes, the party seems to be regaining old vote banks, which had drifted away.
Alliance with the TDP flopped in Telangana against the rampaging TRS, but Congress has an ally in Andhra Pradesh, who knows the twist and turns of coalition politics and is ready to back Rahul for PM.
CHALLENGES GALORE FOR RAHUL GANDHI
The road ahead is still not easy for Rahul. Congress is struggling in many crucial states like UP, Bihar, West Bengal and Odisha. Rahul\'s wins will make even the members of an emerging grand alliance including TMC, SP and BSP rethink their strategy. Their rise was at the cost of the Congress. A rejuvenated Congress is bad news for them. To knit a grand alliance Rahul may have to manage inexorable political contradictions and cede space to regional players. Gandhi would have to balance the interests of his allies and his party. The biggest challenge for Rahul would be how he lifts the calibre of his organisation to match the might of the BJP\'s election machinery.
BJP\'S LOSSES A WAKE-UP CALL
The BJP has lost significant support from key sections of voters who had played an important role in propelling the party to power in the 2014 general elections. Voters in rural areas, farmers, Dalits, tribals, first-time voters and the unemployed have voted for the Congress much more than they have for the BJP in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan as well as in Chhattisgarh -- indicating that the slew of policies by the Centre and the BJP state governments neither have percolated down nor have enthused the voters. Losses in both rural and urban parts indicate a serious flaw in how the BJP has positioned itself politically. There are signs that the urban middle class and traders have abandoned their traditional political romance with the BJP.
BJP\'S DEPENDENCE ON MODI TO INCREASE
The defeat of three regional satraps like Shivraj Chouhan, Vasundhara Raje and Raman Singh will multiply the BJP\'s dependence on PM Modi as a vote-getter. At a time when the setbacks have dented brand Modi, the BJP has to ascertain whether the disillusionment among these segments is more a factor of state-level anti-incumbency - and not a verdict on the performance of the Modi government.
The BJP feels that in 2019 Lok Sabha polls, the issues in vogue would be more conducive for its star campaigner and his fiveyear term would be the rallying point. But the BJP\'s decisive and visible shift toward an agitation for Ram Temple is admission that its campaign needs supplements despite Modi.
In 2014, BJP eased past the Opposition by striking big, mini and micro alliances with regional and local outfits and caste groups. The three defeats will make BJP a less attractive ally at a time when the NDA resembles a depleted force, as compared to 2014. Walkouts from NDA by TDP and RLSP and acrimonious existence with the Shiv Sena have set a perception that the BJP plays big brother in alliances. This needs correction.
Many pundits doubt whether allies like Ram Vilas Paswan will stay on in the NDA if the tide turns against the BJP. JDU\'s Nitish Kumar is a conventionally a comfortable ally.
MANDIR, HINDUTVA DRIVE TO PEAK?
Sources say the Ram Mandir agitation in the coming days may gain intensity. Driven by the RSS and saints, the idea would be to create polarisation that can obscure anti-incumbency and caste divides among the majority community voters. This can lead to social conflicts. In the ongoing session of Parliament, the BJP is under pressure for an ordinance for Ram Temple construction in Ayodhya. Legally, that is a tough-to-execute move.
However, some say that the party may back the Private Member\'s Bill on the issue by a RS MP Rakesh Sinha to create a situation which resembles Ram Temple vs the Congress-led Opposition. The minister for the newly-set up cow protection ministry in Rajasthan has lost the election. That\'s sign for the BJP that emotive appeals may not work. And Ram Mandir agitation may raise dust, but not bring votes.
REGIONAL SATRAPS IN FOR \'ACHHE DIN\'
The BJP lost ground in the Hindi heartland and is searching for new catchment areas where it will be facing regional satraps like Mamata Banerjee, Naveen Patnaik and others. That\'s where the big challenge for the two national parties lies. None of these players, as proved by KCR in Telangana, are ready to offer any large toe-hold to the big players. They would try to strike tactical alliance to increase their tally, not of their allies.
Mood Kya Hai