The electoral judgment is the same, but with a difference. Rahul Gandhi led the congressional indictment in the municipal elections of Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh, losing both.
But frankly, his heart and mind weren’t in the Himachal battle. Like Kerala, the reins of administration in Shimla fluctuate between Congress and the BJP.
And with Virbhadra Singh, the incumbent Prime Minister of Congress in controversies and corruption cases, Congress faced an arduous task in this hill state.
Indian Prime Minister and Head of Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) Narendra Modi gestures at the start of a speech at Party Headquarters in New Delhi on Monday
So Rahul Gandhi was not so much in action in Himachal, and after a few trips chose to focus only on Gujarat.
Even before the election was announced, he meant business and started traveling the state, taking the ruling dispensation seriously. He bent his back and gave everything that was left of the frames of his party, as much as he could, to get them excited.
It was meant to be a cake walk during the hustings for the BJP. It has been in office for 22 years and has won five consecutive times. It was the Gujarat development model, touted by Narendra Modi, that brought him to power in the 2014 general election. And BJP won Gujarat 26-0 in the Lok Sabha.
New President of the Congress, Rahul Gandhi, “should take heart in the results”
With Amit Shah at the helm, the BJP was all set to take the offensive with its development agenda and ‘record / performance’ in office over the past five installments.
Rahul Gandhi, on the other hand, pursued a hopeless case, as Congress was decimated in 2014 to fewer than 45 in the lower house of parliament, and was cut state by state, and a party president, Sonia Gandhi, was not the pink of her health.
With Shankarsinh Vaghela leaving the Gujarat Congress and scouring Ahmed Patel in a scruffy Rajya Sabha struggle, the party was unable to create even the appearance of a fight.
BJP National President Amit Shah and his wife flash victory signs after they cast their votes
But after the election dates were announced, it was the BJP that went on the defensive. It was as if they were the eternal underdogs.
The BJP went after Rahul Gandhi, as if the latter were in power. It was surprising to see a rattling BJP deliberately giving up the development agenda, concerned about the impact of demonetization and ‘Gabbar Singh Tax’ (the Rahul tweet that got a lot of traction) on the Gujarat trading community.
Rahul Gandhi ridiculed Modi daily as to why “the prime minister has left the development agenda.”
A run-through of Modi’s speeches at his record meetings reveals a lot. He did not defend his record as Prime Minister or Vijay Rupani as CM.
Prime Minister Modi tasted victory in Gujurat because the BJP retained power in the area. The party has been in power in the state since 1995
Instead, he returned to his old chorus of Gujarati ashmita and “Congressional attitude to ignore Gujarat.” It was a stunning reversal of roles.
Shah camped in Ahmedabad for almost two months and worked overtime. It was an election for the ‘BJP to lose’.
And then came Mani Shankar Aiyar blunders – first, giving the opposition an opportunity to compare Rahul Gandhi’s dissolution as a congressional president to that of Aurangazeb, then the fatal ‘neech aadmi’ jibe.
This was a godsend for a panting BJP and Modi himself stuck to these comments.
The newly elected president of the Indian National Congress party Rahul Gandhi (L) listens as his mother and former party chairman Sonia Gandhi (R) offer him a seat at a ceremony held at party headquarters in New Delhi on December 16, 2017
In the end, it turned out to be a bridge too far for the congress. For starters, it was more than a David versus Goliath. Rahul Gandhi was a dwarf dwarfed by the Modi-Shah combination in every facet of the electoral showdown.
Rahul only had to offer himself in challenge and the environment that made the BJP’s nerves ring. He stood up. He was not shocked by the personal barbs thrown at him. He stood taller than he was – showing a hitherto unseen faculty in him.
What came through these election exchanges was that Rahul Gandhi is here to stay.
Despite his best performance yet, the newly appointed party to the President of Congress has been put to the test for the sixth time in Gujarat.
But instead of losing courage in exit poll projections, which predicted the defeat of the Congress in Himachal Pradesh and Gujarat, Rahul Gandhi gave a well-balanced first speech about the takeover as Congress President.
He had been the butt of the joke for too long, especially with his own party members shouting for Priyanka Gandhi to take over the head of the Congress.
However, Rahul Gandhi showed several places this time and India would get better. And his statement that those in the BJP were siblings should be taken seriously and answered by the saffron party.
National parties cannot go after each other. The growth of regional forces – not regional ambitions – does not bode well for us. The ball is now at the BJP.
It has to give up its congressional Bharat mentality, for the sake of India.
Meanwhile, Rahul Gandhi and the Congress need to give courage to fight expectations and prepare for 2019. There is still hope. PM Modi, on the other hand, must stand up as a statesman and show humility and grace.