Is the Congress on the comeback trail?

Chhattisgarh has been the biggest boost to the Congress but U.P. and Bihar are the real tests The recently concluded Assembly elections in Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan are testimony to the fact that Rahul Gandhi has successfully assumed the leadership role of the Congress. Notwithstanding the memes on Twitter and derision as a no-good “Pappu”, Mr. Gandhi addressed more rallies than either Prime Minister Narendra Modi or Bharatiya Janata Party chief Amit Shah did. He also did not shy away from making direct references to Mr. Modi, who continues to enjoy high popularity ratings. Nor was there any pretence that he would shy away from taking power and exercising it, should it come his way. Acting with foresight The biggest boost to Mr. Gandhi’s image was the landslide victory in Chhattisgarh. The modest victories in Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan were also important. To be sure, each of these three States had its own script for electioneering. And in hindsight, Mr. Gandhi seems to have acted with some foresight. In Chhattisgarh, many Congress leaders were killed by Maoists in Jiram Ghati in Bastar, just months before the Assembly elections of 2013. Former Congress Chief Minister Ajit Jogi was a constant spoiler for the party. Yet, the Congress won. Mr. Gandhi took the difficult decision of choosing a Chief Minister and finally picked Bhupesh Baghel, an important Other Backward Classes leader who steered the party after the Maoist attack and picked up important signals of anti-incumbency against Raman Singh. He also took the calculated risk of not entering into an alliance, which many felt would damage the party’s prospects in the State. In Rajasthan, Mr. Gandhi placed his bets on a young Sachin Pilot, and sent him to the State as Congress chief two years back. The results of the byelections in Ajmer and Alwar were a bonus. This was a difficult State given the caste politics of the dominant Jats. The Congress’s decision to adopt a pro-Hindu image in order to forestall any critique of it being called a pro-Muslim party paid off. Besides, the Rajasthan Congress does not have any tall Jat or Rajput leader of its own. Ashok Gehlot is the party’s old hand from the socially disadvantaged Mali caste. The factional battles could be seen even in the process of ticket distribution, with Jat leader Rameshwar Dudi opposing Mr. Pilot. Mr. Gandhi played his political innings well, revealing his caste and gotra. The twitterati failed to get the better of him. People in the State were angry with the then Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje. But the spoils of victory for the party were shared with others, including with Hanuman Beniwal of the Rashtriya Loktantrik Party, who won three seats.

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