New Delhi: Newly appointed Congress president Rahul Gandhi has emerged as challenger to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, with the Congress managing to reach its highest seat tally and vote share in Modi’s home state in the last two decades.
Although the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has managed to retain power in the state, its seat tally in the legislative assembly has come down by nearly 14 seats from the last assembly elections and 26 seats from its 2002 tally, according to trends.
Given the fact that Gujarat is the home state of PM Modi and BJP president Amit Shah, the gain for Congress could be seen as Gandhi becoming a key challenger to the incumbent.
The Gujarat election results were being seen as the first test for Gandhi, for whom it’s only the third day as party president. The 47-year-old led the party’s campaign in the state and focused on stitching a social coalition with several smaller community leaders, including Hardik Patel who leads the Patidar Anamat Andolan Samiti (PAAS), Dalit activist Jignesh Mevani and OBC leader Alpesh Thakor.
Congress’s performance in the state is significant because it failed to win a single seat in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections in Gujarat, as the BJP swept the state winning all 26 parliamentary constituencies.
Also, Gujarat is the first-ever big state where the Congress came in a direct contest with the BJP since 2014, and gave the incumbent a tough fight.
Moreover, Congress’s performance in Gujarat could boost the party’s chances ahead of key upcoming elections in Karnataka, Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan—the states will go to polls in the next one year and will see Congress in a direct contest with the BJP. Apart from Karnataka, where the Congress is in power, BJP rules the remaining three states.
The Gujarat election results could also set the tone for Congress’s campaign for the 2019 Lok Sabha elections under Gandhi and boost the morale of the party cadre, especially since the party has seen losses in nearly a dozen state elections since the drubbing in 2014.
Official trends by the Election Commission (EC) show the BJP leading in 101 seats with 49.1% vote share, and the Congress leading in 75 seats with 41.6%