Wresting Himachal from BJP is small consolation for beleaguered Congress

With near annihilation in Gujarat and a face-saving victory in Himachal Pradesh, it was a day of mixed results for the Congress on Thursday

December 08, 2022 10:54 pm | Updated 11:51 pm IST - New Delhi

AICC in-charge for Himachal Pradesh Rajeev Shukla along with co-in-charge Tajinder Bittu greets Congress president Mallikarjun Kharge on the party’s win in the Himachal Pradesh Assembly polls.

AICC in-charge for Himachal Pradesh Rajeev Shukla along with co-in-charge Tajinder Bittu greets Congress president Mallikarjun Kharge on the party’s win in the Himachal Pradesh Assembly polls. | Photo Credit: PTI

The Congress got only 17 seats in Gujarat, its worst-ever performance in the State in the last four decades, though it remains the second-largest party after BJP. A significant shift of its vote bank to AAP which could prove detrimental in the long term gives the party enough to worry. In Himachal Pradesh, with 40 seats in its kitty, the bigger challenge for the party is to keep the flock together for the next five years.

Party President Mallikarjun Kharge speaking to reporters said, “We accept our defeat in Gujarat and welcome our victory in Himachal Pradesh. We shall continue our fight. No victory or defeat is permanent. We will not abandon our principles and this is an ideological battle. We shall analyse and try to overcome our shortcomings.” 

The scale of Gujarat defeat casts a long shadow on the political situation in neighbouring Rajasthan which is going to polls in November 2023. Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot who was the senior observer for the State, was credited for the party’s 2017 performance when with 77 seats, it gave a real scare to the BJP. Thursday’s defeat dents this image of a man with an acumen for building organisation. “Though, one may blame political arithmetic for our defeat in Gujarat, the truth is we had an indifferent campaign in the State,” a senior leader said. Party’s State in-charge and Rajasthan leader Raghu Sharma has resigned taking responsibility for the defeat.  

The victory in Himachal Pradesh is the first for the party under the newly elected Congress party president Mallikarjun Kharge. And first victory for Congress in a Hindi-speaking State in the last four years.

The credit is heaped on party general secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra who addressed five rallies here at Mandi, Solan, Kangra, Una and Sirmaur. She also closely monitored the elections. Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel who was the senior observer for the State also addressed seven rallies. Mr. Kharge said, “The question is not about whether these results came soon after I was elected. We have won Himachal Pradesh elections for which I thank all the voters, party’s workers, office-bearers and everyone who worked during this election campaign.”  He also thanked Ms. Priyanka Gandhi, Mr. Rahul Gandhi and Ms. Sonia Gandhi. 

While the victory in Himachal Pradesh does not entirely balance out the defeat in Gujarat, party leaders feel that it could be a crucial turning point. “Over the years, BJP has been spreading the notion that the Congress cannot win in the Hindi-speaking belt. Our victory in Himachal Pradesh, a State where the BJP president J.P. Nadda hails from, where Prime Minister and BJP Chief Ministers did extensive rallies, clearly nullifies this narrative,” senior leader Sachin Pilot, who was one of the observers in the State, told The Hindu. Another party functionary pointed out that there were days during the campaign when the BJP held 68 simultaneous public meetings. “We won against this kind of money and might put together by BJP,” the functionary added. 

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