Congress Halts BJP Juggernaut

Congress wrested two key Hindi-belt states from BJP and staked claim to form the government in the third, thus registering its first major victories against the saffron party since the 2014 rout, besides shoring up its challenge for the upcoming general election.

Of the three Hindi-belt states that went to polls last month, Congress swept Chhattisgarh, crossing the two thirds mark in the 90-member Assembly, but just about made it to the halfway mark in Rajasthan, where the party has won 99 seats.

In Madhya Pradesh, however, the fortunes continued to fluctuate with each round of counting. Late on Tuesday night, Congress approached governor Anandiben Patel claiming it has the numbers. Samajwadi Party and BSP also had a couple of candidates in the lead.

Despite the close contests and the narrow leads, the result has come as a big shot in the arm for Congress barely five months ahead of the 2019 elections.

The timing could not have been better for Rahul Gandhi as it came exactly a year after he took over the reins of the Grand Old Party from Sonia Gandhi. A photo finish in Madhya Pradesh has also seen Congress improving its vote share and seat tally markedly. BJP lost nearly 3% of its vote share in the state, maintaining a slender edge over Congress.

After the 2014 parliamentary elections, Congress has won only Punjab and Puducherry assembly elections. In Karnataka, it came second to BJP but managed to form the government through a post-poll alliance with JD-S by giving up its claim for the chief minister’s seat.

This outcome will give Congress the necessary heft to build a credible national alliance and give BJP a tough fight in the upcoming parliamentary elections. Together, the three states account for 65 Lok Sabha constituencies. The pressure would now be on BJP to compensate possible losses here for a comeback in 2019.

On the other hand, Congress, which has only six of the Lok Sabha seats in the three states, will only increase its tally in the next general elections. Of these, three (two in Rajasthan and one in MP) were bagged in by-elections. For BJP, the electoral setback necessitates a reorientation because this will be the first time in the recent past that the party will enter a parliamentary election without governments in at least two of these states.

On Tuesday, Congress opened its account with a handsome win in the 90-member Chhattisgarh Assembly. The state, which has often been cited as a perfect example of affirmative action under BJP chief minister Raman Singh, voted Congress in, firmly rejecting the experiment with the newly floated Janta Congress Chhattisgarh party under former CM Ajit Jogi. Strong anti-incumbency after a 15-year BJP rule coupled with corruption charges, farm distress, unemployment and low-performing schemes emerged as key factors for Congress’ victory.

Rajasthan was a closer call than what the exit polls had predicted. Congress struggled to get past the magic mark of 100 in the 200-member Assembly. While many pointed to the fact that even Ashok Gehlot had to take the support of independents when Congress last formed a government in the desert state in 2008, the turn of events did take the party by surprise. The large number of victorious independents clearly indicated that both BJP and Congress could have managed rebels better. The Congress high command would now have to take the tough call of choosing between Sachin Pilot and twotime CM Ashok Gehlot to head the government.

MP saw BJP’s only ‘farmer’ CM Shivraj Singh Chouhan losing his strong 50-seat advantage from the last polls.

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