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Fresh Challenges

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With its victories in the states of Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan, the Congress has been granted a new lease of life by the electorate. Otherwise, it seemed that the BJP’s ‘Congress Hatao, Desh Bachao’ campaign was well on track. As compared to the opinion polls, the BJP managed to pull itself back considerably in Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan from what was predicted, but performed miserably in Chhattisgarh.
It is natural for the Congress to build the narrative that it was a PM Modi versus Rahul Gandhi contest, which was won comprehensively by the latter, but the facts lay elsewhere. The BJP was fighting anti-incumbency and must look hard at the performance of its individual Ministers, MPs and MLAs. This is because that will count even more in the coming 2019 contest. If looked at from the Uttarakhand perspective, for instance, what have the MPs been doing of their own accord and in interpreting and implementing the economic policies and development vision of the Union Government? How much has the state government collaborated in furthering the grand designs? The commitment of the people is not so much to Modi, as to what he has been working to deliver. When the BJP leadership examines the reasons for the defeat, it must pay close attention to whether the mega-projects have been delivered at the grassroots through the necessary engagement of elected representatives with the general public. It is time for a massive outreach.
The fact that the Congress was so comprehensively out in the cold despite the number of votes it polled in the aggregate meant that the democratic pendulum had swung too much to one extreme. The representative character of Indian Democracy has been restored with the Congress comeback. It now depends on what it does with its success. It must be remembered that responsibility forces parties to behave in a more mature fashion. Recall the attitude of the elected Congress CM of Punjab, Amarinder Singh, during the Kartarpur Corridor drama, which was far more in line with the nation’s declared foreign policy, than with his party.
From the very start, Rahul Gandhi has difficult decisions to make, such as selecting Chief Ministers and delivering on the extravagant poll promises. He will find it is a much more difficult job than merely parroting hot button issues identified by his backroom boys. Wrong decisions will result in serious factionalism, which the BJP can take advantage of. Also, he will have to be wary of young leaders who might shine in their jobs and become challengers for the party’s leadership while he is away vacationing somewhere. He might also come to appreciate the difficulties Modi faces in running the country.