06 Feb 2018 16:27 IST

The Congress shows it is resurgent

Sachin Pilot

That’s what the reading is from the results of the Rajasthan bypolls

For the Congress, the outcome of the Gujarat elections was like manna from heaven. But the BJP managed to squeeze through, riding on the shoulders of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. But on budget day, the desert State of Rajasthan gave the Congress a powerful whiff of victory; the party swept all the three by-elections in the State — the two Lok Sabha seats of Alwar and Ajmer, and the Assembly constituency of Mandalgarh.

As all three seats were held by the BJP, this is a huge morale-booster for the Congress. Particularly because the State goes to the polls by the end of the year and these wins, by effective margins and bolstered by the Congress candidates leading in each of the Assembly segments of the two Lok Sabha seats, are a strong signal that the public sentiment is turning. In a rare moment of political astuteness, whether by design or accident, the Congress got everything right even as the BJP stumbled. From smart selection of candidates keeping in mind caste equations, to allowing the home-grown nad competent young leader Sachin Pilot to lead the show, it played its cards well.

No to politics of hate

In Ajmer, the BJP fielded Ram Swaroop Lamba, son of its popular Jat leader Sanwarlal, hoping to ride the sympathy wave . In Alwar, the sitting MLA and minister, Jaswant Yadav, hoped to split the Yadav vote and defeat the Congress candidate Dr Karan Yadav. But the latter’s strategy to play the Hindutva card — at one meeting he blatantly asked the Hindus to vote BJP and the Muslims to vote Congress — misfired. Sadly for him, the region where Pehlu Khan was beaten to death by cow vigilantes didn’t vote for the politics of hate.

The Congress smartly used the face of an existing minister to dwell on the failures of the Vasundhara Raje government. Along with the anti-incumbency factor, the anger of the Rajputs, though misplaced, against the Raje dispensation for its failure to stop the release of Padmaavat, helped the Congress candidate. That the Congress managed to win both seats so convincingly and by huge margins — 1.96 lakh in Alwar and about 84,000 in Ajmer —is a rude wake-up call not only for the chief minister against whom revolt is brewing, but also the top BJP leadership, and its mentors in Nagpur. After all, in the 2014 general elections, the Congress had failed to even one out of the 25 Lok Sabha seats in Rajasthan and 26 in Gujarat. So, is the tide turning?

Local leaders matter

In Ajmer, once Pilot’s constituency, senior Brahmin candidate Raghu Sharma ate into the BJP’s core vote-bank. Hopefully, Pilot’s staying away from this contest signals that he will be the party’s chief ministerial candidate in the Assembly polls and not Ashok Gehlot. A young India needs young leaders.

Pilot’s hard work on the ground to lead the party to this convincing performance proves that local leaders matter. Gujarat, the karmabhoomi of Modi, didn’t have any, and that made the difference between victory and defeat. The Rajasthan results — pithily summed up by the irrepressible Shatrughan Sinha in a tweet as a triple talaq to the BJP — proves to the Congress that the monolith model no longer works. Allowing local leaders to grow might yet help it redeemitself in 2019.

In West Bengal where BJP chief Amit Shah has been making triumphant calls of wresting the State from Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress in 2019, the lotus is yet to be sighted. And his getting defections from the TMC, such as Mukul Roy who was facing charges of corruption, doesn’t exactly add sheen to his ‘bhrashtachar mukt Bharat’ slogan.

The BJP should take seriously the hashtag BasEkAurSaal used by Rahul Gandhi in his tweet to celebrate the 800-odd point crash in the Sensex on long-term capital gains tax being reintroduced in the budget. Empty promises and tall talk won’t work, nor will lynching of people under the guise of cow protection, terrorising film-makers, and creating an atmosphere of fear. These are not the hallmarks of a great, modern nation.

But more than for political parties, both the Gujarat Assembly polls and the Rajasthan bypolls are a stinging slap on the face of the Indian media. It might have been gagged or gagged itself, but at election time the people will speak. Period.

(The article first appeared in The Hindu BusinessLine.)