As Congress takes fight to BJP camp, party faces challenge of retaining momentum

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Having done well in a straight fight with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in Gujarat, the Congress party faces the challenge of retaining the momentum in four crucial state elections as well as the general election which are less than 18 months away.

The next one year is going to witness a direct contest between the Congress party and the BJP in Karnataka, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh.

The importance of elections to the assemblies of these states lies in the fact that they together account for 93 out of the 543 Lok Sabha seats.

The Congress party is currently in power only in Karnataka, while the BJP is the incumbent in the other three states.

Senior party leaders feel the performance in Gujarat will boost the Congress party’s prospects in the upcoming assembly polls as the contests are of a similar nature and at least two of the states—Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh—are neighbours of Gujarat.

“The way we have performed in Gujarat is very significant…With Rahul Gandhi taking over the party, a process of decision-making has started, and it is going to yield a big change for us,” a senior party leader closely associated with Congress’s Gujarat campaign said, requesting anonymity.

Gandhi took over as Congress president on Saturday and will direct the campaigns in these key electoral tests as well as polls in the three north-eastern states of Meghalaya, Nagaland and Tripura early next year.

“I would say that this is the first time in nearly 22 years that the Congress has actually accepted the challenge in Gujarat. The micro movements on the ground, whether it was by the Patels, the Dalits, the farmers and other groups created an anti-BJP narrative which helped the Congress,” said Vidyut Joshi, former vice-chancellor of Bhavnagar University.

In Karnataka, for instance, chief minister Siddaramaiah is battling anti-incumbency and the Congress party is banking on his popularity, caste alignments and recent populist announcements to help him retain power.

In both Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh, the BJP has been in power since 2003 and the Congress party feels that the anti-incumbency factor will benefit it.

In Rajasthan, the Congress is bracing itself for a tough contest with chief minister Vasundhara Raje-led BJP.

“The clear message coming out of Gujarat is that Modi can be defeated and this will motivate other like-minded parties to join hands with Congress. Nationally, Congress can revive itself, but some of the biggest challenges it faces includes rebuilding a strong cadre base and bringing in fresh leadership, particularly in states,” Joshi added.