Thursday, February 9, 2023

A morale boosting win

For the Congress, it had to swallow a bitter pill in Gujarat where it ceded the space to the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP)but manage to salvage its reputation by wresting Himachal Pradesh from the BJP. After almost four years and 18 losses in state elections, the win in Himachal Pradesh has given the Congress a huge psychological boost and providing some succour from the battering it received in Gujarat. In Himachal Pradesh, the Congress won 40 of 68 seats and came after a string of political defeats against the BJP as well as regional parties. The win by the Congress came after exodus of several leaders, which prompted questions about the leadership’s ability and competence. Before the Himachal victory, the Congress had been reduced to ruling over just two states. According to senior Congress leaders, Himachal is not one of the big states, but the victory could still boost the party’s morale ahead of the next year’s assembly elections in nine states — Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Karnataka, Tripura, Mizoram, Meghalaya, Telangana and Nagaland — and the 2024 Lok Sabha polls. The Himachal result is also good news for the Congress’ new president Mallikarjun Kharge. Within two months of taking charge as the party chief, he tasted success in an assembly election even though the Congress flopped in Gujarat. Himachal Pradesh provided the Congress leaders mainly the Gandhi family with an even playing field against Modi to earn voter connection. The Congress did not contest the Gujarat election except offer token fight against the BJP since it was certain of defeat. This was an admission of total failure in revamping and inspiring the party rank and file. The win in Himachal Pradesh was largely due to factionalism within BJP and partly due to the issues raised by the Congress. Himachal Pradesh makes it one additional state for the Congress in the country’s political map along with Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh. While the BJP did everything wrong in Himachal Pradesh such as the factionalism among the party aspirants for the chief minister’s chair- BJP had rebel candidates on 21 of the 68 seats. The other was that there were three factions within BJP at play. One was led by Mr Nadda, another by Union Minister Anurag Thakur, and the third by Chief Minister Jairam Thakur. The issues that did the BJP were inflation, the Agniveer crisis, and the brewing anti-incumbency. The Congress campaigned on local issues while BJP focussed on national issues and Modi. There is no political party in the country that can stand up to the awesome resources of the BJP while the Congress, despite being practically handicapped by resources has a pan-India presence to challenge BJP. The Himachal Pradesh win for the Congress may hardly mean much in terms of Rajya Sabha seat but overall, it was a morale booster. What the Himachal Pradesh and Gujarat election campaigns reveal is that political parties notably Congress and BJP are focussing on big states with an eye for the final fight in 2024.

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