The Gujarat elections have been among the shrillest in recent memory. The analysis offered across the board is that since Gujarat is the BJP’s oldest bastion and the party’s two most important leaders belong to the state, the stakes are high for the ruling party. In contrast, since the Congress Party has been a non-entity in the state for decades now, it has nothing to lose. Such an impression, due to several factors, is inaccurate.
The Congress Party’s strategists, for whatever they are worth, understand this. For the last three years, the BJP under Amit Shah is the only party that has played a high-stakes game in every election, irrespective of how strongly poised they were to win. By going all out against the BJP and having Rahul Gandhi campaign in the state for weeks together, something that is quite uncharacteristic, the Congress Party has done the same. Rahul Gandhi on the ground might be counter-productive for the party, but that is a separate issue.
The reason this is an important election for the Congress Party is not because they stand to make a dent on prime minister Modi and Amit Shah’s home turf, upping their morale and lowering their opponents’. Those are byproducts of a potential victory or a decent performance. The reason Gujarat is important to them is because if they cannot topple the BJP government here, they will go into the 2019 general elections with only Punjab and Pondicherry in their kitty. One doesn’t have to be a rocket scientist to deduct that Himachal is already lost, and that they do not stand a chance retaining Karnataka and their northeastern fortresses which go to polls next year. Anti-incumbency, high levels of corruption and minority appeasement are likely to bring down their remaining state-governments in the runup to the 2019 elections.
The disadvantages of going to polls in 2019 with only Punjab and Pondicherry under their belt are plentiful. To begin with, they will be treated by their peers as a glorified regional party, and might not even get a chance to lead the anti-Modi coalition. Second, Punjab’s chief minister Captain Amarinder Singh has a mind of his own, and often doesn’t toe the high command’s line. This will further dent the party’s legitimacy. Thirdly, with the likes of D K Shivakumar out of power at the state level, the party will find it hard to keep its coffers full and its organizational strength at an optimum. With Yogi Adityanath and Smriti Irani having effectively stolen Amethi from Rahul Gandhi as well, shifting him will be an additional headache for the party. Although three BJP bastions- Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan- go to polls before 2019, the BJP remains popular in these states. In Gujarat, the Congress Party had to fight a relatively new leadership, and also had a mass-movement to piggyback on. The other BJP-ruled states do not do not have such chinks in their armor.
These are the reasons they have betted big on Gujarat. Despite Amit Shah’s machinations, they ensured Ahmad Patel retained his Rajya Sabha seat so as not to suffer a massive blow prior to the elections. Their media ecosystem was on overdrive, the hit-job on Jay Shah being a great example. Some even believe they might have used the help of a hostile neighboring country in the ongoing elections. But the fact of the matter is that they played every card at their disposal, because for them, Gujarat was do or die. Unluckily for them, their opponent enjoys nothing less than a high stakes game. As every bet of the Congress Party was matched or raised by the BJP, a defeat in Gujarat for the Congress Party will cost the party much more than just another defeat.
There are 5 reasons why Congress cannot afford to lose the Gujarat Elections:
1.) If the Congress Party loses Gujarat, its ploy of pretending to be a Hindu party will be called out – Since Hindutva was an important element for both the BJP and the Congress Party’s campaigns, a defeat will give them the tag of not being Hindu enough. Kapil Sibal’s attempts to delay the Ram Janmobhoomi case in the Supreme Court will be highlighted again and again, and will be remembered for decades to come.
2.) If the Congress Party loses the elections, irrespective of whether the issues relating to Pakistan made a difference on the ground, their anti-national credentials will be etched more vividly in the public’s imagination.
3.) If the Congress Party loses the elections, its mid-election sham of elevating Rahul to its presidency will be looked upon as a major faux-pas before Rahul has even the time to prove himself
4.) If the Congress Party loses Gujarat, every supposed youth leader in the country whom the Congress Party has promoted as an alternative to the current dispensation, will be perceived with ridicule.
5.) And most importantly, if the Congress Party loses Gujarat, the Gujarat model will stand vindicated for the umpteenth time.
In other words, the Congress Party has staked too much for the Gujarat elections. Losing this election is a one-way ticket to eternal damnation.
The Congress Party has brought this upon itself. And for all those who think the Congress Party has nothing to lose- I’m sorry, but they are the ones who have everything to lose. I suspect the BJP top brass is all too happy that the stakes have been raised so high, and that too on prime minister Modi and Amit Shah’s home turf. And all ground reports indicate that it’s not looking good for the Congress Party.