Election results 2024: Rahul Gandhi says verdict shows voters don’t want Narendra Modi, Amit Shah to run the country

Congress chief Mallikarjun Kharge says it is the “political and moral defeat” of Narendra Modi; hints at “new partners”, but leaves next moves to INDIA meet; Mr. Gandhi thanks voters for taking first step in “protecting the Constitution”

Updated - June 05, 2024 12:13 am IST

Published - June 04, 2024 10:29 pm IST - NEW DELHI

Congress leader Rahul Gandhi leaves party headquarters with his sister and party leader Priyanka Gandhi Vadra after addressing a press conference in New Delhi on June 4, 2024.

Congress leader Rahul Gandhi leaves party headquarters with his sister and party leader Priyanka Gandhi Vadra after addressing a press conference in New Delhi on June 4, 2024. | Photo Credit: Shashi Shekhar Kashyap

The 2024 verdict, which saw the Congress nearly doubling its Lok Sabha tally from 2019, signalled a political revival on the back of its leadership, strategies, and the ability to effectively build and communicate its narrative to the electorate.

A jubilant party president Mallikarjun Kharge and former chief Rahul Gandhi addressed the media on the results, amid celebrations at the party headquarters. Parliamentary party chief Sonia Gandhi and star campaigner Priyanka Gandhi Vadra were also present, but did not speak.

“It’s now clear that this mandate is against [Prime Minister] Narendra Modi ji. This is his political and moral defeat,” Mr. Kharge said. Though he did not elaborate on the party’s next move, leaving all official decision-making to an INDIA bloc meeting on Wednesday, Mr. Kharge did hint about “new” partners.

‘Anti-Modi verdict’

Mr. Gandhi said that he had faith that the people would respond after the government targeted Opposition parties, hitting the Congress’ banking operations, and jailing Chief Ministers of Opposition-ruled States.

“The country has unanimously and clearly stated that we do not want Mr. Modi and [Home Minister] Mr. Amit Shah to be involved in the running of this country... This is the main thing that this election has said,” Mr. Gandhi asserted.

Thanking the people for their mandate, the former Congress chief said that voters, especially those from Uttar Pradesh, had taken the first step in “protecting the Constitution”.

Khata khat leadership

The results may not have increased the Congress tally of seats khata khat (swiftly)a term popularised by Mr. Gandhi in his campaigns — enough to allow them to stake a claim to form the government, but the comeback has firmly placed Mr. Gandhi as the main alternative to Mr. Modi.

“We and the INDIA bloc didn’t just fight a political party. We were fighting the entire structure of governance, like the Intelligence Bureau, [Central Bureau of Investigation] CBI, [Enforcement Directorate] ED, and the section of the judiciary that has been captured and theatened by Mr. Modi and Mr. Shah,” the former Congress chief said.

The 2024 election was fought under the leadership of Mr. Kharge — the first non-Gandhi party president in the past 25 years — but Mr. Gandhi was seen as the driving force in terms of reconnecting with the masses.

Reaching the masses

His five-month long Kanniyakumari-to-Srinagar Bharat Jodo Yatra from September 2022 to January 2023, and its second edition, the Manipur-Mumbai Bharat Jodo Nyay Yatra from January to March this year, not only allowed the Congress to connect with the people but also helped revive the organisational machinery in States.

Without being tied to any formal position in the party, Mr. Gandhi was positioned as a key campaigner of the INDIA bloc. In States like Uttar Pradesh, where he held press conferences and rallies with Samajawadi Party (SP) chief Akhilesh Yadav, the move seems to have paid off.

“In U.P., our good showing is also because of my sister [Ms. Vadra] who is hiding somewhere here,” Mr. Gandhi told reporters.

Coalition strategy

The task of building a rainbow coalition of non-BJP/NDA parties was left to Mr. Kharge and to general secretary (organisation) K.C. Venugopal, who also returned to the electoral fray and won the Alappuzha seat in Kerala. One of the party’s most difficult decisions was to contest in only 328 out of the 543 seats in the Lok Sabha. The party high command faced stiff resistance and even rebellion in Maharashtra, where its ally, the Uddhav Thackeray-led Shiv Sena, contested a higher number of seats than the Congress.

“Even our party units found it difficult to digest it, but our leadership clarified that this anarchy of misgovernance, dictatorship, misusing power must end,” Mr. Venugopal had said in an earlier interview with The Hindu. Originally, the idea of fielding a joint Opposition candidate against the BJP in as many seats as possible came from Janata Dal (United) chief and Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar; the Congress top brass carried forward the idea even after Mr. Kumar switched sides and joined the NDA.

Sticking to its narrative

The low voter turnout after the first phase of the election may have prompted the Prime Minister to resort to a more strident campaign, revolving around mangalsutra, mutton, machchli, mujra — all euphemisms to attack the Congress over Muslim appeasement.

The Congress, however, stuck to its core campaign issues, such as unemployment and inflation, focussed on the 25 guarantees mentioned in its manifesto. The party’s communication strategy, spearheaded by Jairam Ramesh, focussed on countering the BJP’s charges by posing as many as 272 questions to the PM over the two-and-a-half month campaign.

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