Congress chief Rahul Gandhi ‘silences his most bitter critics’ after winning 43 per cent of votes in Modi’s home state of Gujarat.
A senior party functionary said: ‘The Congress improved its tally from 61 to 80 seats and also its voteshare in a state that is the home turf of the PM and the BJP national president.
‘Never before has any PM had such a strong connection with any particular state and that is the edge Modi has in Gujarat.
‘It is time for the BJP to introspect how it came down from 115 to 99 seats at a time Amit Shah had claimed it would get nothing short of 150.’
For Rahul, the stakes were high, especially with his elevation to the party’s top job, timed around the polls.
While the increase in voteshare and seats in Gujarat was attributed to Rahul’s leadership, the loss in Himachal Pradesh was squarely blamed on outgoing chief minister Virbhadra Singh.
‘At 83, he insisted on leading the party. Of course, we did not have any other face in the state and had little option but to go with Singh once again. There was anti-incumbency at play and Singh did not want to let go of the opportunity and that cost us dearly,’ said a senior party leader.
In Gujarat, what looked like a crumbling state unit just four months back with the exit of former chief minister Shankersinh Vaghela and a few other party MLAs, turned into a more cohesive unit in the run-up to the polls with Rahul closely monitoring every move in the state.
Steering the party from the frontline, the new party chief was riding on the hopes and expectations of party workers sans a strong organisational set up in the state.
‘There was no prominent face in the local leadership and the organisation at the state level was far from robust.
‘Rahul ji’s whirlwind tours and his connect with the masses saved the day for Congress. This tally could have been bettered if we had some strong local leaders.
But Rahul ji managed to stitch together a coalition and bring the young Turks Hardik Patel, Jignesh Mevani and Alpesh Thakor together, albeit a little too late,’ said a Congress Working Committee member.
Rahul tried to pump in fresh energy and bring in innovative ideas such as a manifesto drafted following recommendations from different communities, pressing its student and youth wings into independent campaigns and an aggressive door-to-door campaign that helped build a connect with the masses.
Party leaders maintained that the performance in Gujarat is ‘just the beginning’ and the five Assembly polls slated for next year – in Karnataka, Meghalaya, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan — will be the ‘real battle.’
The Congress is in power in Karnataka and Meghalaya and has a strong local leadership in Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan with prominent faces like Sachin Pilot, Ashok Gehlot, Kamal Nath, Digvijaya Singh and Jyotiraditya Scindia here.