The situation on the ground could not have been better for the Congress party to mark its revival with an election win in Gujarat. The Goods and Services Tax and demonetisation had impacted the economy and there was a sense of anger against the BJP-led government at the Centre over the bearing it had on businesses.
Or so it appeared.
Riding against a strong wave of anti-incumbency, the Bharatiya Janata Party is all set to retain power in Gujarat for a record sixth consecutive term. As per available trends at 12:45 pm, the BJP was leading in 106 of 182 seats, while 72 Congress candidates were leading from their seats.
While Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s whirlwind tour of the state in the last leg is believed to have been the key reason behind the BJP’s winning run, there are ample reasons for the Congress to introspect, yet again.
In the days ahead of his coronation, Rahul Gandhi toured the state extensively, and raised the pitch against GST pitfalls and demonetisation woes. However, none of that appeared to have worked to the party’s favour, as per current trends.
Here are the top 5 factors that kept Congress away from power:
1. Mani Shankar Aiyar’s ‘Neech’ remark
The out of place remark by Congress leader Mani Shankar Aiyar, calling PM Narendra Modi a ‘neech aadmi’ is believed to have turned the favour against the Congress in the state.
PM Modi, not one to lose out on such opportunities served on a platter, took the Congress to town as he used the comment against him as a direct attack on his origins. PM Modi countered the remark, juxtaposing it against his poor origins and targeted the Congress over dynasty politics.
Another comment by Aiyar, this time ahead of Rahul Gandhi’s coronation as party president, added fuel to fire as the BJP capitalized on it aggressively. Speaking ahead of the filing of nominations for the party president’s post, Aiyar countered allegations of the polls being a futile election given Rahul’s imminent coronation saying there were no elections when the throne was passed on during Mughal era.
The remark yet again put the Congress in a spot with the BJP refreshing its attack on the Congress of serving only one family instead of the nation.
2. Rahul’s ‘Gabbar Singh Tax’ jibe
Rally after rally, Congress president Rahul Gandhi targeted the Centre over its shoddy implementation of the GST and its pain points in a bid to resonate with the largely business-oriented community in Gujarat.
While the anger among voters against the BJP against GST was highlighted time and again, the voter perhaps chose to stay away from the tone set by the Congress against this landmark legislation.
Rahul Gandhi’s ‘Gabbar Singh Tax’ jibe to take on the Centre over GST and its tax slabs may have amused crowds but eventually failed to catch the fancy of the voters. While it is too early to judge if one comment turned the tide against the Congress, the seemingly negative campagin against an economic reform may have upset voters.
3. Soft Hindutva push
Temple visits by the Congress president throughout his campaign was expected to translate into party making some headway with its Hindu credentials and counter the so-called polarisation of voters on the basis of religion by the BJP.
While the controversies this sudden shift in stance in terms of the Congress’ appeal to voters did keep it in the limelight, it may have cost the party dearly.
While only a detailed analysis of final constituency-wise vote percentage figures will reveal how the Congress fared in minority dominated seats, the Hindutva pitch for a party that takes pride in its ‘secular’ credentials may have turned the sentiment against it.
The soft Hindutva push was visible even in the distribution of tickets where voices were raised at a few places against the party’s decision against handing tickets to Muslims from some seats.
4. ‘Vikas pagal ho gaya hai’
Among the many developments that set the tone for elections in Gujarat, ‘Vikas pagal ho gaya hai’ (Development has gone nuts) barb against the workings of the ruling BJP in the state was seen as a game changer for the Congress and its allies.
The campaign struck a note with the internet-savvy electorate and became a hit in a matter of no time. However, one would argue that the Congress allowed its campaign to peak too early.
The Congress’ attacks on the government were soon turned into an attack against the BJP’s development agenda for the state.
5. The perception battle
Perhaps the biggest failure that the results of Gujarat indicate is the Congress’ abject failure to present itself as a viable alternative to the BJP. The Congress, which managed to raise issues like flogging of Dalit youth, the Patidar agitation and the anti-poor stance of the government, could not translate these issues into any significant impact in terms of electoral wins.
Going ahead, the Congress will be left with very little to target the government as it has failed to make its case before voters on every count that it has raised against the BJP.
While the vote share percentage may show marginal gains for the Congress, a win after 22 years in power for the BJP should really worry the Congress going into the 2019 Lok Sabha polls.