NEW DELHI: The Congress on Sunday suffered a near wipeout in the Hindi heartland as it lost 3-1 to the BJP in the assembly polls, signalling the need to redraw its strategy for the 2024 Lok Sabha elections.
However, its victory in Telangana gave a boost to its consolidation in southern India where it is in power on its own in Karnataka.
Congress' loss in the key states has also weakened the grand old party's position in the INDIA bloc where equations are set to change, as other opposition parties would challenge its position as the fulcrum of the alliance.
While Samajwadi Party chief Akhilesh Yadav had lashed out at the Congress over refusal to share seats in Madhya Pradesh, more rumblings within the opposition bloc have begun after the results on Sunday with JDU's K C Tyagi saying that this is not a defeat of the INDIA bloc but of the Congress, as it ignored other partners.
Kerala chief minister and CPI-M leader Pinarayi Vijayan said the Congress thought it had already won and couldn't be defeated and this led to its downfall.
Referring to the SP-Congress "ugly faceoff", Shiv Sena (UBT) MP Priyanka Chaturvedi said this could have been avoided and asked the Congress to show more generosity. "You are a big party and taking on a bigger responsibility in the INDIA alliance, then you have to show some generosity," she said adding that the Congress needs to introspect where it is lacking in direct contests with the BJP.
Internal rifts and factionalism within its state units added to the Congress' woes in these assembly polls, which were considered as semifinals to the 2024 general elections. The big announcement of freebies, the Caste Survey and the Old Pension Scheme, which worked in some other states, also did not work in its favour in these elections.
Notwithstanding this, pollsters feel that factors that contributed to the party's loss include the anti-Sanatan row, allegations of appeasement, besides the inability to counter anti-incumbency in states ruled by it. The Panauti remarks against Prime Minister Narendra Modi and a negative personalised attack on him also seemed to have backfired on the party in these elections.
The party's so-called 'soft Hindutva' card also did not yield any significant results.
The BJP's organisational strength, its Hindutva card and the Prime Minister's development pitch and talk of national pride in campaigning seemed to have worked well for the BJP, which pulled a stupendous victory despite projections by pollsters to the contrary.
The BJP leaders asserted that the electorate has preferred 'Modi ki guarantee' against the 'Congress guarantees' in these elections.
BJP's women card in all these states, especially in Madhya Pradesh where it had launched the 'Ladli Behna' scheme that gives monthly financial doles to women for economically weaker strata, seems to have worked well in the ruling party's favour.
Factionalism within its units in the states of Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan proved detrimental to the Congress.
While Bhupesh Baghel and T S Singh Deo had a running feud for five years in Chhattisgarh, differences between Kamal Nath and Digvijaya Singh in Madhya Pradesh and an open war of words between Ashok Gehlot and Sachin Pilot are among the factors that went against the Congress party.
Admitting that the Congress' cards did not work with the voters this time, a senior leader said there is a need for the party to go back to the drawing board and chalk out its strategy soon as merely four months are left for the grand finale in Lok Sabha elections.
The results of the assembly elections have come as a bitter lesson for the Congress party and the larger opposition bloc, which will now have to rediscover its election narrative to take on a resurgent BJP under Prime Minister Modi.
"Our performance in these three states has no doubt been disappointing, but with determination, we reaffirm our strong resolve to rebuild and revive ourselves in these three states...We will overcome temporary setbacks and prepare ourselves fully for the forthcoming Lok Sabha elections along with the INDIA parties," Congress chief Mallikarjun Kharge said.
Leaders of Indian bloc parties would meet on December 6 at Kharge's residence to chalk out its further strategy on how to take on the BJP.
While the Congress office in Delhi wore a deserted look this afternoon, party leaders expressed confidence that it will able to bounce back in the coming months and turn the tide in its favour.
Exactly 20 years ago, the Indian National Congress had lost the state elections in Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan, while winning only Delhi.
But within a few months, the party bounced back and went on to emerge as the single largest party in the Lok Sabha polls and formed the government at the Centre. "It is with hope, confidence and a firm sense of resolve and resilience that the Indian National Congress prepares for the forthcoming Lok Sabha polls," Congress general secretary Jairam Ramesh said.
The assembly poll results have come as a dampener for the Congress and given a booster dose to the BJP ahead of next year's finals, and the Indian National Developmental Inclusive Alliance (INDIA) would have to make some quick decisions to win back people's confidence and take lead in the perception war.
"These election results underline the need for the secular forces to redouble their efforts in defence of people's livelihood and the secular democratic character of the Indian republic," CPI(M) General Secretary Sitaram Yechury said.