New Delhi: The Congress on Thursday suffered its worstever defeat in Gujarat but won a majority in the Himachal poll, a mixed bag for the party that not only faces a rampaging BJP but an ambitious AAP vying for the leadership of the Opposition in the run-up to 2024 General Election.
Political analysts believe the Gujarat debacle is bad news for the Congress not only in terms of the scale of loss but also in ceding space to the Aam Aadmi Party that could challenge the grand old party in other two-party states — Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh, which go to polls next year. Eventually, it could have implications for 2024.
The grand old party wrested Himachal from the BJP in line with the tradition of alternate governments in the hill state, it suffered a crushing defeat in Gujarat where it was winning just 17 seats in the 182-member assembly. Its vote share fell sharply to 27% from 42% in 2017, with AAP cornering most anti-BJP votes. Debutant AAP was seen securing 13% votes.
In Himachal, the Congress found itself in a better position, winning in 40 seats and a vote share of 43%. But the dismal showing in Gujarat would impact the party’s bargaining power vis-a-vis other opposition parties. Also, losing Gujarat badly could add to the exodus of leaders that the party has been facing.
Former Congress leader Sanjay Jha, who had also been a party spokesperson, said the Congress is paying a “spectacular price for its self-inflicted mammoth Punjab disaster where it gave away the state on a silver platter with golden ribbons to its nemesis, the AAP”.
“Naturally an emboldened AAP sees Congress as a low-hanging fruit. That explains the dismal withering away in Gujarat and Delhi,” he said.
The decimation in Gujarat would not only have a bearing on the morale of the Congress and its workers that has been running high on the back of a successful rollout of the Bharat Jodo Yatra, but also impact the party’s ability to mobilise support and resources for future electoral battles.
Manindra Nath Thakur, who teaches political science at the JNU, termed the Gujarat loss a “disaster” for the Congress and said it could lend credence to the argument that the AAP may replace or challenge the grand old party in biparty states.
“The Congress faces more danger from the AAP going towards 2024. The BJP is in a comfortable position and AAP could swing the anti-BJP votes towards it if Congress does not rework its strategy. The AAP can put up a challenge for the Congress next in Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh also,” he said.
The repercussions of the Gujarat defeat were soon felt in the Congress as its Gujarat in-charge Raghu Sharma resigned, taking moral responsibility for the party’s defeat in the state assembly poll.
About the Gujarat defeat, Congress chief Mallikarjun Kharge said win and loss are part of democracy and “we accept the mandate of the people of Gujarat”. However, the Himachal win has given the leaders something to cheer about. The party, currently in power on its own only in Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh, will add a state, albeit a small one, to its kitty.
The Himachal win is significant for the party especially because its electoral clout in the north has been on a decline for more than a decade now. The comeback is a “huge morale booster” as it has been able to reclaim the state despite a massive BJP poll machinery, Jha said.
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