The Congress went hammer and tongs about the issue of uneven development in Gujarat, handling of the draught situation in the state, malnutrition and water problems. They hoped to come back to power on the premise that Narendra Modi has ‘lost the plot’.
But it seems the Congress is living in its own world away from reality. In one of the most bizarre post election results comment ever, Union Finance Minister P Chidambaram said the BJP may form a government in Gujarat but ‘the real winner’ in the state is the Congress. The Congress may have very marginally improved in these elections but it is more of a consolation prize and not really a `win`. This statement itself smacks of a defeatist attitude.
The Congress party has always been accused of complacency. And these polls were no different. Any state elections and the Congress relies on the Gandhi family to exhort voters to vote for them – this without trying to strengthen its cadre base or backing a strong regional leader.
For a party which has been out of power in Gujarat for years now, the Congress needs to be worried. Not only because it has no known face to counter Modi but also because its traditional vote bank like the dalits and the tribals are said to have voted for Modi in comparatively large number. And it goes without saying that the Congress cannot hope of coming back to power in Gujarat if does not make inroads amongst the urban voters, Modi`s strongest votebank.
What could be worse for the Congress is that its state president Arjun Modhwadia, seeking third consecutive term from Porbandar constituency, was defeated by his BJP rival Babu Bokhiria by a margin of 17,146 votes. Remember Modhwadia had spearheaded a sustained and aggressive campaign against the BJP.
Also the Congress needs to get over its short term syndrome and think of a long term solution if it is serious about getting back the regional space that it has lost. Come to think of it, going into the elections many of the candidates that the Congress fielded were ex-VHP men and disgruntled Modi detractors. To make matters worse the party was besieged by infighting and chaos in ticket distribution, which saw the defection of former deputy chief minister Narhari Amin from the Congress.
One of the factors that Congress was hoping to benefit from was the breakaway of former BJP strongman, Keshubhai Patel from the party. However, it was not to be. Rather than relying on extraneous factors, the party will have to create its own base. Imagine a party which projects itself as the messiah of the minorities and the Muslims was scared of uttering a single word about those areas in Gujarat where the benefits of development may not have percolated down to the Muslims. A party which offered sops like cheap housing for low income groups cannot ever come back to power in Gujarat if it goes to the polls bereft of new ideas.
If Modi said that these elections were about ‘pro-incumbency’ then he was right. The Congress almost played in to the hands of Modi by being extra careful in the run up to the polls.
While Modi blamed the UPA-led government at the Centre for all its ills and publicly criticized Manmohan Singh and Sonia Gandhi, the Congress leaders were hesitant to take on Modi and attack him on his weak points.