Gujarat: Congress leaders fault ‘silent’ campaign, shortage of funds
The Congress won only 17 seats, its worst showing in the state ever. And the BJP won 156, its best performance in the state.
“The voters were silent”, said a senior Congress observer for Gujarat, indicating that the party’s campaign failed to resonate with voters at the ground level in the run up to the assembly elections.
The party may have only itself to blame. Its campaign in the state was so low-key that even devoted Congress workers quipped that it was “silent”. They also added that funds were so scarce that many candidates spent entirely from their pocket.
The result: The Congress won only 17 seats, its worst showing in the state ever. And the BJP won 156, its best performance in the state.
Not surprisingly, the party lost many of its bastions.
It lost the assembly seat of Borsad, a stronghold of the Congress since 1967 to the BJP.
To be sure, the entry of a third contestant, the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), hurt the Congress more than it did the BJP. The AAP ended up with a 12.9% vote share, almost entirely at the Congress’s expense. The latter saw its vote share shrink from 41.4% in 2017 to 27.3%. The BJP, in contrast, increased its vote share from 49.5% to 52.5%.
AAP, a HT analysis shows, played spoiler in 30 seats. Of these, the Congress was at the receiving end in 22.
The party was also hurt by defections. In 2017, it kept the BJP down to 99 seats, but 16 Congress lawmakers joined the BJP in the past five years. In 2019, one of the three young stars of its 2017 performance, Alpesh Thakor, joined the BJP. Earlier this year, another of the three, Hardik Patel, also joined the BJP.
A senior Congress leader from Gujarat said: “The BJP has mastered the art of poaching Opposition lawmakers. It has toppled our governments in states such as Karnataka, Maharashtra, Uttarakhand, Arunachal Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh in the recent past. Even after winning, seats don’t remain secured.”
In the 2017 election, the Congress mopped up additional seats in Saurashtra and South Gujarat, apart from holding its key bases in North and Central parts of the state and managed to keep the BJP below 100 seats. This election, the BJP swept Saurashtra and southern Gujarat and the Congress managed to retain just seven seats in the northern areas and just three in the central zone in an election where Prime Minister Narendra Modi spearheaded the campaign.
In its initial assessment, which has been circulated to the party headquarters, Congress leaders in Gujarat have blamed a host of issues but remained silent on its poor campaign.
“The BJP’s talks about 2002, the release of the rapists of Bilkis Banu, not punishing anyone in the party for the fatal Morbi bridge accident – all of these were meant to send a message to the voters,” said one of the four Congress central observers for Gujarat.
The Congress’s assessment also adds that the BJP was able to cash in on Congress party president Mallikarjun Kharge comparing Modi with Ravana. In an election rally, Kharge had wondered if Modi has 100 faces.
“PM Modi always talks about himself. ‘Don’t look at anyone, just look at Modi and vote’. How many times do we have to look at you? We have to see your face in the corporation election, MLA election and then MP election. Do you have 100 faces like Ravan?” Kharge said, triggering a row.
The Congress’s pet issues, inflation and unemployment, didn’t find much traction in the poll-bound Gujarat, claimed a party leader, adding that the party failed to provoke debates on these two raging issues.
“We hit the streets over price rise and unemployment in August-September but were not able to convey the message to the voters of Gujarat.”