Modi might have lost the battles of 2018, but in 2019, there will be a full-fledged war - with sleepless nights for the Congress.
It all started in 2014, the Congress lost Lok Sabha elections and how! Coming down from 206 seats to 44, this was Congress at its lowest since its inception. What followed 2014 was a nightmare – 2015 Delhi elections – 0 seats out of 70 contested; 2015 Bihar elections – 27 seats in the 243-seat Assembly; 2016 Tamil Nadu elections – 9 seats in 234-seat assembly; 2016 West Bengal elections – 44 seats in 291-member assembly; Kerala – 22 seats from being in power; Assam – 26 seats. Not an ideal start for Rahul Gandhi by any means. If 2014 and the two years succeeding it were a nightmare, 2017 was no different.
In February, Rahul Gandhi-led Congress was compelled to contest Uttar Pradesh Assembly elections on 102 seats in the 403-member house, out of which, the party won just 9 – its lowest ever in India’s largest state. The ruling Congress also lost the hill states of Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh. In December, the party claimed a ‘moral victory’ in PM Narendra Modi’s home state of Gujarat where the victorious Bharatiya Janata Party was facing a triple anti-incumbency. All in all, the years 2014, 15, 16, and 17 brought not only defeats, but disgraceful defeats for Congress as Rahul Gandhi was still able to elevate himself to party’s president’s position.
Well, 2018 was the year when Rahul Gandhi & co finally saw some sunshine. The Congress party’s first moment of celebration came as it lost Karnataka elections in terms of electoral performance but managed to stop an audacious Bharatiya Janata Party from forming the government with the help of JD(S). The Congress celebrated, for being able to retain power, and for being able to halt BJP’s victory wagon at least in one state. This was indeed a battle half won!
The real delight for the ordinary Congress worker came in the month of December – when the grand old party won Assembly Elections in three Hindi heartland states of Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh. It appeared that victory infused nectar in a Congress which was on the ventilator for years now. Modi, the formidable leader of BJP, was seen accepting defeat for the first time. And Rahul, the president of the Congress party and scion of Gandhi family, was finally able to shed the ‘pappu’ tag, a slang his opponents used to target him with.
Indeed, 2018 was the year Rahul Gandhi’s Congress always waited. What about 2019? The upcoming year awaits the Congress with unprecedented challenges. The grand old party – which was so dominant that it has a history of being opposed by federal fronts or united opposition – is today struggling to knit a grand alliance against the BJP. Indeed, the grand old party is not that grand anymore.
Down to historic low of 46, it has the challenge to up its tally significantly in the Lok Sabha elections. Mr Gandhi has to establish himself as the leader of the party, and the party has to establish him as the prime opposition voice. The bigger challenge for the Congress is to increase Rahul’s acceptability among opposition parties, and more importantly, among the masses.
Several regional satraps including Mamata Banerjee, KCR, Akhilesh Yadav, Mayawati and Naveen Patnaik are reluctant to accept Rahul Gandhi as the leader of the united opposition. This may be the reason behind KCR’s efforts to make a non-Congress and non-BJP Federal Front for the General Elections in 2019.
The biggest challenge of all, however, will be to counter Narendra Modi with all its might. Modi might have lost the battles of 2018, but in 2019, he is sure to come out all guns blazing. There will be a full-fledged war – with sleepless nights for the Congress.