With its performance in the Hindi heartland India’s GOP has defeated BJP plans for a Congress-mukt Bharat

The  BJP’s rout in its strongholds of Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan and the seesaw fight in Madhya Pradesh has a significant lesson for the saffronites. By voting against the Congress in Mizoram and Telangana, where regional parties Mizo National Front (MNF) and Telangana Rashtra Samiti (TRS) respectively have won, the electorate has sent out its own message. In all, voters seem to have pressed the ‘pause’ button for the BJP juggernaut that rolled virtually unchallenged in the last four-and-a-half years. The Congress that was in the dumps appears to be picking up the pieces to challenge the Narendra Modi-Amit Shah combo that had as its goal a ‘Congress-mukt’ Bharat.

Anti-incumbency has played out in full against the incumbent governments in Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan with chief ministers Raman Singh and Vasundhara Raje giving up easily. Shivraj Singh Chouhan, easily the most popular leader in Madhya Pradesh, nearly refused to make way for the Congress that closed flanks and put up a united fight. Big inroads made by the Congress in Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh and Bhopal could alter the script for the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. The BJP will have to undertake serious introspection to understand what went wrong in its well-oiled election machinery and famed booth and ‘panna’ management which inspired rival parties to follow similar strategies. Getting the party cadres back on their legs after these bruises would be possible only if the leadership successfully resolved intra-party rivalry, pandered to the aspiration of workers and worked out a deal with the RSS on the ‘ram mandir’ issue. The party should also take Congress president Rahul Gandhi more seriously as a campaigner.

The big question for the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) is whether the ‘development plank’ alone will win them the mandate in 2019. One could also look at keeping the alliance partners intact while making an earnest attempt to win new partners. The Congress will have to quickly end celebrations from the latest wins to prepare for the Lok Sabha elections. For Rahul Gandhi, leading the Congress into the next Lok Sabha elections may still be easier than sewing a formidable rainbow coalition against Modi who is the tallest leader today with mass appeal.

Now, allowing state legislators to elect their leader in the states that gave the mandate to the Congress should be the starting point for reforms in the grand old party. The decades-old practice of anointing chief ministers from the centre should give way to a flexible internal democratic set-up. Secondly, moving away from being a family-run party may be hard but not impossible. Unless it comes clean from the sullying stain of past scams, the Congress may not become the centrifugal force for 21-odd parties in the opposition alliance. Thirdly, K. Chandrasekhar Rao, with a second mandate, will be a huge issue for both N. Chandrababu Naidu and the Congress in the southern states. Having put all its energies in the Hindi heartland, Mizoram was neglected by the party. The results are there for everyone to draw lessons from. The voter has finally proved that he’s the unquestioned ‘maharaja’ at election time.