Congress returns to starting point in Gujarat
From having come a surprising distance from toppling the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in Gujarat in the 2017 assembly elections to losing a handful of lawmakers and finally being wiped out in the recent by-elections, the Congress party’s fortune in Prime’s home state Minister Narendra Modi keeps slipping.
In December 2017, the party restricted the BJP to 99 seats, its lowest count in the state in 22 years, and also posted its best performance in two decades, winning 77. The party earned praise from election observers for giving a strong fight and even restricting the BJP from reaching the psychologically important three-figure mark in the 182-member assembly.
But in the last three years, Congress has lost 12 of its lawmakers to the BJP, which has reduced its force to 65. On the other hand, the BJP has increased its tally to 111. Prime Minister Vijay Rupani described the victory in the recent electoral assemblies, where the BJP won all eight seats, previously held by Congress, as a “preview” of the 2022 assembly elections.
Gujarat congressional officials mainly blame the central leadership, especially the responsible Rajeev Satav, for the party’s downfall from 2017 onwards, and say the state unit is too weak to stand up to the BJP.
Across India, in 58-seat by-elections in 11 states, Congress won just 12 ,while the BJP won 40, comfortably retaining power in Madhya Pradesh and gaining a majority on his own in Manipur. Congress held 44 of these 58 seats before.
This was the third by-election in Gujarat since the 2019 Lok Sabha elections required due to the change of legislators from Congress to the BJP.
In the by-elections in May last year, the ruling BJP won all four seats in Gujarat. This was followed by another six-seat by-election in October last year, also caused by the defection of congressional lawmakers, including the backward caste leader, Alpesh Thakor, to the BJP.
While the BJP and Congress each won three seats, the big party managed to defeat Thakor.
This setback occurred just as the Congress party seemed to be making an impressive run, beginning with the election of main leader Ahmed Patel in August 2017 to the Rajya Sabha. Patel prevailed in a tense fight with BJP nominee Balwant Singh in an election that ran after midnight and saw Congress kidnap its lawmakers in an appeal to prevent any poaching attempts.
In December of that year, the party fought in the assembly elections with Rajasthan’s main leader and current chief minister, Ashok Gehlot, as general secretary in charge of Gujarat and Bharatsinh Solanki as head of state unit. Although the BJP eventually won the election in what is known as its pocket city, Congress managed to restore some pride.
“All of that has been lost in the last three years. We return to the starting point, ”said a party official on condition of anonymity.
Satav, a former president of the Youth Congress and considered close to former party chairman Rahul Gandhi, was appointed in charge of Gujarat in March 2018, a few months after Gehlot took over as Rajasthan’s chief minister.
“It has been more than a year that we have no state committee, from the stand level. State leadership also runs in the hands of a single family, ”said a second Gujarat congressional leader who declined to be named.
“Satav has barely toured the state after taking office and was not even able to unite the warring factions,” he added.
But Satav said the criticisms weren’t justified. “We have certainly lost by-elections in all seats and we will do a deep introspection and take the necessary corrective action after assessing the reasons. But the BJP misused the entire state machinery to ensure their victory. We have seen the ruling parties win all the by-elections except for Telangana and Haryana, ”he said.
Ahmedabad-based political analyst Prakash Shah blamed weak leadership for the debacle of Congress in the by-elections.
“The leadership of Congress has failed to keep their flock together and the BJP is also accommodating them easily. This shows that the leadership of Congress is weak and its legislators are politically docile, ”he said.
Gujarat was not the only disappointment for Congress in this round of electoral assemblies. It also failed to win any seats in the by-elections in Uttar Pradesh, Karnataka, Manipur, Nagaland, Odisha and Telangana.