New Delhi: The party’s crushing defeat in Karnataka not merely hit the Congress hard but also dealt a severe blow to its president Rahul Gandhi, who was hoping to use an electoral victory to provide him with a springboard to challenge Prime Minister Narendra Modi in the 2019 general election.
The results indicated yet again that Rahul Gandhi might have come a long way, but is still no match for the Prime Minister in national politics. Mr Modi had held 21 rallies in Karnataka, while Mr Gandhi held 38 rallies.
The national political map looks grim for the Congress as the party is in power only in tow states — Punjab and Mizoram — and the Union territory of Puducherry. In one of his election rallies, Mr Modi had taken a dig at the Congress, saying that it “will remain a party of three Ps — Punjab, Puducherry and Parivar”. His prediction could well be coming true. This is the sixth state election that the Congress has lost under Mr Gandhi’s leadership — the six being Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh, Nagaland, Tripura, Meghalaya and Karnataka. Also, as expected, the blame game has begun within the Congress, with senior party leader M. Veerappa Moily saying that a BJP victory in the Karnataka Assembly polls was “quite disappointing”, and attributed this loss to “wrong caste management” by party leaders.
The Congress is, however, still trying to cling on to Karnataka as retaining the state could provide a much-needed boost for the 2019 Lok Sabha polls. But coming to Mr Gandhi’s defence, the party pointed out that despite the defeat, the Congress’ vote percentage was more than that of the BJP. While the Congress’ voteshare was 38 per cent, that of the BJP was only 36.2 per cent.
With the Karnataka defeat and being willing to play second fiddle to the Janata Dal (Secular), the Congress will now find it difficult to project Mr Gandhi as the key face of a Grand Alliance (if one is formed) against the BJP in 2019. Another factor that is apparently hitting the Congress hard was voters’ “lack of condifence” in Rahul Gandhi.
Meanwhile, the BJP, emerging as the single largest party in Karnataka, is all set to reinvigorate saffron party units in the poll-bound states of Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh. The elections in these three states, particularly in Madhya Pradesh, will be another major test for Mr Gandhi.
Despite Mr Gandhi taking over as party president and trying to revitalise the outfit, “lack of organisational strength” and “failure to match Amit Shah’s booth-level management” in major states remain a “major problem area”, a top Congress functionary said.