The victory of Congress in Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan means the heaviest defeat for Narendra Modi-led Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the last four years. The BJP swept to power in 2014 on the slogan: this time it’s Modi’s government. Yet the ruling party’s defeat in three key state elections signals that all will not be smooth sailing when the citizenry heads to the polls to vote in the upcoming election. The loss of the traditional strongholds of the northern states of Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh represents the biggest blow to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s tenure. The three most important takeaways of the Congress Party’s victory in assembly elections in the heartland states of India has suddenly opened up the race for power in the parliamentary polls due in the first quarter of the New Year; it has dramatically altered the political equation between the Congress and its regional allies; and most significantly, the coming of age of Rahul Gandhi, the fifth generation scion of the Nehru-Gandhi family, as a politician and the helmsman of the 133-year-old party. The results will also consolidate Rahul Gandhi’s bargaining power in trying to forge a pan-India anti-BJP alliance with regional parties with the Congress as its anchor and mount the most serious challenge to Modi. The win in the three states will enhance 48-year-old Rahul Gandhi’s image as the credible, main leader of an anti-BJP front in dealing with the more experienced, firebrand and ambitious politicians of regional parties like Mamata Banerjee, Mayawati and Sharad Pawar, and some others who are not known to be comfortable with a man much junior to them. An immediate effect is already visible. Mayawati’s Bahujan Samaj Party, which had refused to align with the Congress in Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan assembly polls, has promptly extended support to the Congress’ bid for government formation in Madhya Pradesh where the Rahul Gandhi-led party fell short of simple majority by two seats. What the results of the polls in the heartland states have done is breach the aura of invincibility built up by the BJP’s victory in a series of state-level elections across India, the most important being the remarkable triumph in Uttar Pradesh, since Modi became PM in May 2014. Congress has bounced back and staved off the challenges of a more resourceful, combative and the killer instinct of the BJP’s ruthless election apparatus. So the wins in three key states are a watershed moment in the beginning of the Rahul era in the Congress. What was particularly creditable for him is the manner in which he fronted the campaign in Chhattisgarh where almost the entire top brass of the state Congress was annihilated in a deadly ambush by Maoists a few years ago.
The results will also consolidate Rahul Gandhi’s bargaining power in trying to forge a pan-India anti-BJP alliance with regional parties.