By Prashant SoodNew Delhi [India], December 8 (ANI): Victory in Himachal Pradesh assembly polls came as a huge relief to Congress which recorded its worst performance in Gujarat and had suffered a huge blow in assembly polls in five states held earlier this year.
The results of assembly polls in Himachal Pradesh and Gujarat on Thursday also had a message for opposition parties for their ambition to take on the BJP in the 2024 Lok Sabha polls.
Congress cashed in on the strong anti-incumbency sentiment in Himachal Pradesh as it ran a campaign that focused on local issues and made lucrative promises including the restoration of old pension scheme and a promise of Rs 1,500 to women and free power of 300 units.
Congress won 40 seats against 25 won by the BJP. However, its vote share was 43,88 per cent which is very close to 42.99 per cent of BJP and several seats in the hill state have seen narrow margins with the presence of rebels also a deciding factor.
The Congress' "hyper-local or micro" campaign in Gujarat did not yield results and apparently made it easier for the BJP to storm back to power with a record victory. The BJP won 156 seats in the state, shattering the record of Congress which had won 149 seats in the 1985 election.
While Congress was able to fend off Aam Aadmi Party's challenge to a large extent in Himachal Pradesh, it could not do so in Gujarat.
Congress had put up a stout fight against BJP in the 2017 election in Gujarat giving the ruling party a scare but its efforts in this election appeared to lack vitality. Congress' campaign strategy proved ineffective in front of high-pitched campaigns of BJP and AAP.
Congress vote share has shrunk from 41.4 per cent in 2017 assembly poll to 27.28 per cent in this election, a steep slide of around 14 per cent. In contrast, both BJP and AAP have increased their vote percentage.
AAP, which has made entry into Gujarat assembly with five seats, is now a national party and has a sizeable 12.92 per cent vote share in Gujarat. It appears AAP has gained almost entirely at the cost of Congress in the state.
Like Himachal Pradesh, which has seen alternate governments for several years, Congress also had great hopes of wresting Uttarakhand from the BJP earlier this year. But the party's inept management allowed the BJP to have a successive second term in office in the hill state.
The Congress is widely seen to have bungled its decisions in Punjab where it was in power and had bright prospects before elections this year in February this year. It was also on the right side of anti-incumbency in the assembly polls held earlier this year in Goa and Manipur.
Not having projected a chief ministerial face in Himachal Pradesh, the Congress now has a major task to choose an acceptable face among the clashing ambition of its leaders in the hill state. An acceptable choice would be vital for the stability of the government.
Party leaders hailed the verdict in Himachal Pradesh as a "morale booster" and said the pledges made to the people of state would be fulfilled.
They also expressed disappointment over Gujarat results.
"Congress was up against a 3 party alliance of BJP, AAP and MIM, a campaign of provocative polarisation, machinery of state and Centre. Our voteshare gives us hope and confidence for rebuilding and revival. We are the only alternative in Gujarat," party leader Jairam Ramesh said in a tweet.
Congress general secretary KC Venugopal said in tweets, Himachal Pradesh "has chosen its message of compassion over hatred".
On Gujarat, he said the "unholy nexus between AAP and BJP was instrumental in dividing the secular votes to script the saffron victory".
"The Congress party will deeply probe and introspect the reasons for this debacle and will take corrective measures," he said.
The Bharat Jodo Yatra led by Congress leader Rahul Gandhi has an apparent larger objective to prepare the ground for the party's success in 2024 elections but the party has to do a rigorous follow-up to make any gains. While Rahul Gandhi addressed two rallies in Himachal Pradesh, he did not address any rally in Himachal Pradesh.
Rahul Gandhi said in a tweet that the party accepts the verdict in Gujarat and the party will reorganise itself and work hard to fight for the rights of the people of the state and for the ideals of the country.
He thanked the people of Himachal for the verdict and congratulated party leaders. The Congress drubbing in Gujarat came two days after the party registered its worst performance in MCD election in the national capital.
These are the first election results under the new party chief Mallikarjun Kharge.
Not having a projected chief ministerial face in Himachal Pradesh, the Congress now has a major task to choose an acceptable face among the clashing ambitions of its leaders in the hill state. An acceptable choice would be vital for the stability of the government.
The Congress will face major challenges in elections next year in Karnataka, Telangana, Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh.
While it is in power in Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan, BJP is in power in Karnataka and is seeking to massively expand in Telangana.
Gujarat results also expose the faultlines in opposition unity that would give BJP an advantage in the forthcoming elections. With AAP likely to contest assembly polls next year in Karnataka, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh, it could add to the problems of the Congress in these states. The competition among opposition parties and fragmentation of votes would pose a stiff challenge for opposition unity ahead of 2024 Lok Sabha polls with Congress keen to lead the race. (ANI)