‘So near yet so far', What could Congress have done differently in Gujarat
The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) may have won the Gujarat Assembly elections 2017, but the party did not fare as well as they had in 2007 and 2012 polls. Despite losing, Congress can take solace in the fact that it won 19 more seats than it had in 2012. During the first hour of counting, it seemed like a neck-to-neck battle that could have gone either way. As the counting proceeded, the gap between the two parties kept widening and by 2 pm on Monday it was almost clear that the BJP could not lose.
The contest, if not nail-biting, was surely a riveting one. In the end, Congress fell 12 seats short of the magic number of 92 needed to form a government while the BJP could just manage seven seats more than it.
All in all, it was a closely fought contest and there is no reason for Congress to lose heart as they gave a tough fight. Let us see what the Congress could have done or avoided doing that might have helped them do better:
Rahul's 'soft Hindutva' ploy was probably overdone:
It is a known fact that Hindutva brand politics works in Gujarat. Rahul Gandhi wanted to cash on it but had to be sure that he does not divert from Congress' core ideology of secularism. What he ended up doing was that it neither appealed to ardent Hindutva followers nor did it impress the traditional secular followers of Congress. Rahul seemed caught in between and may have even irked the minorities. It appeared as if he was trying to mimic what the BJP was so good at.
Not projecting a CM face:
It would have done well for Congress to have announced the CM candidate before the elections so that the entire campaign could have been planned around it. Rahul was the face of the campaign I Gujarat when it was clear that he wouldn't be around after the elections. Projecting a local leader with Rahul campaign for him/her could have done wonders.
Clinging on to same old criticism of GST/Demonetisation:
Election campaign highlighting the woes faced by people due to demonetisation had already been tried and tested in UP and four other states that went to polls earlier this year. BJP clearly came out with flying colours in UP and that should have taught Congress a lesson that harping on it wouldn't work. Moreover, UP elections were held when the cash crunch was indeed a major issue and people were facing a lot of problems due to it. When it did not work there when the problem was much more intense, how could it have worked now when the situation is almost back to normal.
The GST is yet to be fully understood and the traders (or even people at large) have not yet made up their mind if it is good or bad. Almost all of Gujarat's cities have a large aspirational middle class who understand economic matters well. The literacy level of Gujarat is also good and they probably feel that GST is a step in the right direction. People are still waiting to see if it does something good as claimed by the government.
Rahul launching a direct attack on Modi may not have gone well with the Gujaratis. People of Gujarat are in awe that a leader from their state is the Prime Minister of the country. Modi's tenure as the Gujarat Chief Minister is seen by many as a golden period as he relentlessly worked for Gujarat's development. He brought in development, created jobs, boosted industrial growth and made Gujarat a model state for other states to follow. Instead of attacking the Gujarat model, Rahul could have focused on how to take Gujarat forward now that Modi has left for Delhi. He could have highlighted how BJP leadership has been unable to steer the state after Modi left and could have pitched the Congress as an alternative. Criticising the genuinely good work done by Modi was certainly not the path that Congress should have taken.
Aiyar's Neech comment:
Mani Shankar Aiyar's remark calling PM Modi Neech gave the BJP ammo to go all guns blazing at the Congress. The comment came at a crucial time, a day before the first phase of polling. It probably did more damage than could have ever imagined. Modi, in his rallies after Aiyar's remark, used it to totally corner the Congress and projected it as an assault on Gujarati Asmita (Gujarati pride). No amount of damage control by Congress could stop Modi from firing salvo-after-salvo at Congress. He repackaged and presented in such a manner that Congress' reputation among voters was demolished. There was no less time left after Aiyar's remark that Congress could not even clarify its stand and even attempt at an image makeover.