Srinagar: The BJP has yet again won Gujarat for the sixth consecutive time, with Himachal Pradesh to boot. The two wins have followed its landmark triumphs in Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand early this year. The Prime Minister Narendra Modi remains as invincible as ever.
He also remains the favourite to win the general election in 2019. But at the same time the Congress also has something to celebrate.
In Gujarat the party seems to have found its bearings for the first time since its ignominious loss in 2014 which reduced it to its lowest tally in Lok Sabha. Rahul Gandhi, its new president, seems to have finally come into his own. He has suddenly acquired the gravitas of a leader who can stand his ground in front of the overarching presence of the PM Modi. And as the reduction in the BJP’s seats in the state indicates, Gandhi almost pulled off a big upset.
The BJP has won but not without Gandhi giving it a fight and a fright. In a sense thus, even in defeat, Gandhi seems to have made his mark. This opens a window for the Congress. It may still not seem to be a party capable of dislodging Modi in 2019 but Gandhi seems to have infused it with a fresh potential for fight.
In the following two years, Gandhi faces a litmus test for his leadership. After leading a spirited campaign in Gujarat, hopes have soared that he will put Congress back in the electoral reckoning. However, the challenge for Gandhi now is now even bigger. He doesn’t only have to see that Congress fares well in the subsequent polls but also that he matches the PM Modi’s overarching persona and articulates his own vision of India. Or re-invent, so to say, the existing vision of Congress. But going by the speeches, he has made so far, Gandhi has hardly measured up, even though he has improved his message delivery somewhat. Besides, his secular vision for the country still remains vague and uninspiring.
Gandhi has so far either been reluctant or has failed to straddle the Hindu-Muslim divide. What India needs is a leader who re-invigorates secularism-communalism debate and highlights the pitfalls of Modi’s idea of India. India needs a leader who also redefines and re-invents the concept of secularism, not as a vote-bank identity as is the case now but as a live, everyday creed and ethic that also informs India’s institutions.
The secularism that Gandhi is iterating continues to be steeped in electoral calculations. And this is why he is still not convincing unlike Modi.