POLITICS
24/05/2019 7:59 PM IST | Updated 24/05/2019 7:59 PM IST

How Did Congress Lose Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh And Chhattisgarh So Badly?

The assembly election results last year had been taken as a sign of revival for the Rahul Gandhi-led party.

SAJJAD HUSSAIN via Getty Images
Indian National Congress Party president Rahul Gandhi gestures as he speaks during a press conference at the party headquarters in New Delhi on May 23, 2019. 

NEW DELHI—In December 2018, when the Congress dislodged the Bharatiya Janata Party-led governments in the three Hindi heartland states of Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chattisgarh following closely contested assembly elections, it was seen as a revival of the Rahul-Gandhi-led party’s prospects for the 2019 Lok Sabha election.

But Thursday’s sweeping results in favour of the BJP in the three states show that the Congress failed to capitalise and build on its gains during the assembly elections, instead registering a disastrous performance in the general election.

The Congress won just 1 seat in Madhya Pradesh, two in Chhattisgarh and failed to win anything in Rajasthan.

On Thursday evening, addressing workers after the massive mandate, BJP president Amit Shah indicated just how important this turnaround performance was for his party. He reminded his audience that in December 2018, after adverse results for the three states came in, he told party workers, “Congress has surely won, but we haven’t lost.”

He wasn’t wrong. In both Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh, a look at the net vote shares for the two parties showed that there wasn’t much difference. Only in Chhattisgarh did the Congress effectively trounce the BJP-led government. 

When results for elections 2019 began trickling in on Thursday, it became clear that the BJP had won 62 out of 65 seats in the three states.

After this overwhelming defeat, key Congress leaders in the three Hindi heartland states, like their counterparts elsewhere in the country, briefly emerged to give stock reactions accepting defeat but did not discuss details publicly.

HuffPost India reached out to pollsters and senior Congress politicians from the three states to understand what the Congress did wrong and the BJP did right.

Rajasthan:

1) Dr. Sanjay Lodha, Lokniti Network, Rajasthan

First, the BJP was far ahead organisationally. It did everything in an organised way. The Congress was relatively weak. I expected the BJP to win 20-23 seats and 2-5 seats for the Congress party but the BJP did even better than that.

If the Congress had entered into pre-poll alliances with smaller parties—Hanuman Beniwal’s party in West, Bharatiya Tribal Party in South and Bahujan Samaj Party in East— it could have won 7-8 seats in Rajasthan.

2) Ghanshyam Tiwari, veteran Rajasthan politician, Congress leader

The election was not held on issues. People voted in a burst of emotions. Since election was held on the basis of nationalism, battle against terrorism instead of issues on which it should have have been held, people voted in a burst of emotions that is why this kind of result has come.

In Rajasthan, election did not happen on the basis of the state’s issues. Things like Balakot, terrorism, nationalism became issues. This is the only reason for this kind of result. There is no meaning to the claim that Congress organisation was not as good as the BJP.   

Now a battle for protecting democracy and democratic institutions will have to be fought. The BJP won an election on the basis of nationalism but that card won’t work repeatedly.

 
Madhya Pradesh:

3) Yatindra Singh Sisodia,Lokniti Network, Madhya Pradesh

There were two major local issues here which the BJP raised aggressively during its poll campaign. It said the Rs 2 lakh loan waiver for farmers was only a promise, which wasn’t ever implemented by the government. The BJP could communicate this well even though this wasn’t true. The process of giving loan waivers was initiated and some beneficiaries received the waivers as well. But this is an issue of political communication; how you convince your electorate.  

There were also unscheduled power cuts here. The history of this issue is that the previous BJP government had resolved that issue so this was one opportunity for the party to remind people that, look, the problem has resurfaced after the Congress took over. People don’t go into details so the BJP’s overall messages percolated to the people.

Apart from these two local issues in Madhya Pradesh, the Modi magic at the national level also had a strong impact in the state.

In any case, the party had almost won the state polls in December but lost by a very thin margin. So it was a fight of equals (numerically speaking) and then there was the Modi magic. It felt as if all 29 seats are being contested by Modi directly. Symbol and Modi were the direct points of recognition for the en masse voters. Such a landslide victory could not have happened otherwise. Just consider the victory margins shot up to five-and-a-half lakhs. This was seen in the two constituencies of Hoshangabad and Indore.

This was not expected. As per our conservative estimate, we thought, based on our pre-poll and post-poll surveys, that the BJP will get 20 seats and the Congress 9. Towards the end we thought it could change to 26 seats for the BJP and 3 for the Congress but the results exceeded even that estimate. 

I believe this is not a defeat of the party but a defeat of values, humanism and truth. We could not succeed in convincing people about the truth (of the BJP government) and they (the BJP) succeeded in misleading people: Congress Rajya Sabha MP Rajmani Patel

4) Rajmani Patel, Congress Rajya Sabha MP from Madhya Pradesh

I believe this is not a defeat of the party but a defeat of values, humanism and truth. We could not succeed in convincing people about the truth (of the BJP government) and they (the BJP) succeeded in misleading people.

BJP made many promises to the people of India but forgot about them later and kept on making different promises—this truth is there in front of everyone. Promising one thing first and subsequently forgetting about it, making public conversation about something else. This is what I am talking about.

It is important for all of us to now deeply introspect; for leaders to sit with the party workers and listen to their concerns about where they are facing difficulties.


Chhattisgarh:

5) Prof Anupama Saxena, Department of Political Science and Public Administration, Guru Ghasidas Central University, Bilaspur

The Assembly election of December 2018 in Chattisgarh was held entirely on state issues. So the vote was entirely against the Raman Singh government. But for national elections, people voted for Modi. This vote is not against the Bhupesh Baghel-led Congress government in Chhattisgarh government either. People wanted Modi in the central government.

But no one expected the BJP to have this large margins of victory for sure. The party fought the election aggressively. To beat anti-incumbency against existing candidates, it put fresh candidates on all seats in the state. This coupled with ‘Modi magic’ was behind the BJP’s good performance.

In the past three parliamentary elections, the state sent 10 MPs from the BJP to the Lok Sabha and only one from the Congress. This time around, the Congress sent two and the BJP nine.

6) Chhaya Verma, Rajya Sabha MP from Chattisgarh, Congress

Our performance is better than before, though it could have been even better. Our party workers and leaders put in a lot of effort. Our Chief Minister visited every assembly constituency. If the people didn’t vote for us despite that, I cannot say why.  

In the previous three elections, we won only one seat this time, our candidates won in two and in the Kanker seat, our candidate lost only by over 6000 votes.

They spoke about national security and we did about people’s issues. We couldn’t convey our message to the people as well as the Bharatiya Janata Party did. We needed to convey our message more effectively.

I feel the BJP conveys its wrong messages well, but we do not convey even our right messages well enough. It is the people’s mandate, so I accept it. Raat kitni bhi andheri ho, subah zaroor hoti hain (However dark the night may be, the advent of dawn is inevitable).