Congress Scripts Comeback In Himachal But Shadow Of Gujarat Losses Looms Large On Party's Future

Congress, as the trends suggest, has put up a very bad show in Gujarat while scores of BJP leaders in their cubicles are not shying away from scathingly attacking the Congress and Rahul Gandhi’s conspicuous absence throughout the election campaigning.

Congress workers celebrating assembly poll of Himachal Pradesh in New Delhi.

As BJP is inching towards the historic sweep in the Gujarat Assembly polls, the scenes at its Delhi headquarters are abreast with vibrance. Inside the peripheries of the humungous compounds of the building, workers are preparing lunch in a lungar. Although the interiors of the building look dull and deserted, most of the BJP leaders have thronged at the makeshift booth — a long oblong tent with two lines of small cubicles facing each other —  interacting in cubicles with the media personnel and facing the live cameras of the respective channels. BJP leaders swap their cubicles after their brief monologues on the panels, filling the whole tent with a cacophony of exciting and animated voices, which in unison are celebrating the massive lead the BJP is having as per the emerging trends.  

Congress, as the trends suggest, has put up a very bad show in Gujarat compared to the 2017 general assembly election. Scores of BJP leaders in their cubicles are not shying away from scathingly attacking the Congress and Rahul Gandhi’s conspicuous absence throughout the election campaigning as the latter has been engaged in spearheading the Bharat Jodo Yatra. 

“Congress has reduced itself to an NGO and Rahul Gandhi has become a social worker,” RP Singh, BJP spokesperson, and the former MLA tells Outlook, adding, “You see, in a key state like Gujarat, Rahul Gandhi did not stay for long, as he is busy building his image.” It shows the lack of their intent and political will, he adds.  

Singh believes that it was an early indication of Congress’s surrender before the “might of the BJP” because the Grand Old Party knew “they can’t win.”  

Although the Congress is facing a massive defeat in PM Narendra Modi’s home state, the scenes at 24-Akbar Road are no less than exciting. Throngs of Congress youth workers, donning Bharat Jodo Yatra T-shirts, are bursting fire-crackers and distributing sweets, celebrating the “victory” of the party in Himachal Pradesh. Nevertheless, this does not mean that Congress is oblivious to its massive defeat in the state.   

“We had not expected that the trends would show such an overwhelming BJP wave,” a senior Congress leader tells Outlook, adding, “We were simply not prepared, but let us see once the results are finalised!” 

It was not surprising that the media presence at the All India Congress Committee (AICC)  headquarters is very less compared to the BJP’s office. Unlike BJP headquarters, most of the media personnel at AICC were from small-time television channels and online portals. As a barrage of firecrackers rattles the office premises, dozens of media personnel with their cameras, microphones, tripods, and selfie sticks with mounted phones, are running around the lawn of the AICC premises, jostling their way through other reporters, and celebrating workers, to get videos, photos, and bytes of party leaders and functionaries.  

Although there is a tense atmosphere in one of the rooms at the AICC headquarters, every party functionary in the room believed that winning the Himachal Pradesh is a much-needed respite for the party. Congress is shifting their winning MLAs to a safe house in Chandigarh to avoid any alleged poaching and horse-trading attempts by the BJP in the state.  

For Pawan Khera, the win for Congress in Himachal Pradesh is because of three main reasons — inflation, the Agniveer crisis, and the brewing anti-incumbency. 

“People of Himachal were so nostalgic about Congress this time,” says Khera who is also the Chairman of the Media and Publicity Department of the AICC.  

“It is a massive victory for us, and proof on the faces of the people who believe Congress is dead and incapable of winning elections,” Khera tells Outlook.  

Although it is a good sign for the Congress that it is winning in small states like Himachal, political analyst Praveen Kumar Jha believes that it is not a matter of worry for the BJP. Jha further says that electoral trends from Gujarat elections are very worrying for the Grand Old Party because Aam Admi Party is scooping the votes only from the vote banks of the Congress.   

In the 2017 assembly polls, Congress’ vote share in Gujarat was 41.4 per cent, and that of the BJP was 49.1 per cent respectively. However, as per the current electoral trends, Congress’ vote share has gone down to nearly 27.3 per cent, while BJP’s share of votes jumps to nearly 52 per cent. AAP’s vote share stands at nearly 13 per cent, as of now. This suggests that the votes that Congress is losing are going to AAP, and it is not a good sign for the Grand Old Party.  

“In order to revive their electoral sheen in 2024, Congress has to regain its lost vote share, and also make inroads into the BJP’s vote share, and they have to do it in states that are vital, especially those lying in the Hindi belt,” Jha tells Outlook.