The Bihar assembly results on Sunday brought cheer to the Congress with a nearly seven-fold jump in the party's tally in a crucial state of the Hindi heartland and BJP, its main rival in national politics, losing a key election.
The results came as a vindication of the party leadership's decision to forge an alliance with the Janata Dal-United and Rashtriya Janata Dal in Bihar to contain the Bharatiya Janata Party, led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
It also seemed to indicate that the party may go for alliances in the crucial state of Uttar Pradesh, where it is considered weak. The success of the strategy espoused in Bihar is likely to revive voices in the party for the elevation of Rahul Gandhi, who had taken an early initiative to forge alliances by meeting Chief Minister Nitish Kumar of the JD-U in June.
The results are encouraging for the Congress which is bracing for assembly polls in party-ruled Assam and Kerala next year. Tamil Nadu and West Bengal will also face elections next year while Punjab and Uttar Pradesh will go for polls in 2017.
The Congress, which has been reduced to being a marginal player in Bihar which it ruled on its own about three decades back, contested 41 seats of which it won 27 -- nearly seven times more than the four seats it had won in the 2010 polls when the party had contested all 243 assembly seats.
With wins from two-thirds of seats it contested, the Bihar outcome is the best news for the Congress in terms of electoral success since its debacle in the Lok Sabha polls last year. However, in terms of seats won, it is still placed fourth.
The party had strong candidates on some seats and also owed its performance to transfer of votes from supporters of JD-U and RJD. It does not appear to still have forged a loyal support base of its own with upper castes having switched loyalty to the BJP and the Dalits and backward classes divided among various parties.
The Congress has finished third or fourth in assembly polls in Haryana, Maharashtra, Jammu and Kashmir and Jharkhand held after the Lok Sabha polls last year where it put up its most dismal performance -- winning only 44 seats.
The party faces a growing challenge from the BJP in Assam while the Left Democratic Front appears to be on the upswing in Kerala.
Gandhi, whose June meeting with Nitish Kumar clearly signalled that the Congress intended to fight in an alliance and conveyed to Lalu Prasad's RJD that, if push comes to shove, Congress will ally with JD-U, on Sunday interacted with media persons with a smile on his face.
He said the results were "a victory against the ideology of RSS, the BJP and Narendra Modi".
Party leaders said the verdict has demonstrated that BJP can be easily defeated, despite the resources at its command, through correct strategy and opposition unity, noting that the three parties of the Grand Alliance had eventually thrashed out a clear-cut formula for seat adjustment and the alliance proved cohesive in the polls with easy transfer of votes.
The BJP campaign in Bihar was led by Modi and its resounding defeat is likely to embolden the Congress and other opposition parties in taking on the National Democratic Alliance government more aggressively during the coming winter session of parliament on issues such as "growing intolerance", and not cooperate in the passage of the Goods and Services Tax bill to protest Modi's "confrontationist attitude".