Brand Modi takes a beating as Rahul Gandhi’s charisma resonates in Hindi heartland

The results from the Hindi heartland are heartening for INDIA bloc, with a massive swing in UP and a substantial gain in Bihar and Rajasthan.

BySaket Suman

Published Jun 04, 2024 | 9:51 PM Updated Jun 04, 2024 | 11:54 PM

Rahul Gandhi and Akhilesh Yadav (X)

In a clear rejection of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s authoritarian politics, voters from the Hindi heartland, which until yesterday was his party’s stronghold, have sent out a loud message to democracies worldwide: power has an expiry date. And that that expiry date can come sooner than expected if the grievances of the people from whom power gains its authority are heard and catered to.

This seems to be the mantra that the Rahul Gandhi-led Indian National Congress-led INDIA bloc strategically applied to counter the false waves being created by the echo chamber of India’s subservient mainstream media and the IT Cell operated by the ruling party.

The election results from the Hindi heartland are heartening for the INDIA bloc, with a massive swing in Uttar Pradesh and a substantial gain in Bihar and Rajasthan. The Bharatiya Janata Party, quite easily, retained its stronghold in Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh.

Game-changing verdict from UP

Modi’s biggest masterstroke for this election season fell flat long before the elections kicked in. Despite the initial euphoria, the consecration of the Ram Temple in Ayodhya failed to generate enthusiasm that could help retain the votes for the BJP. The party even lost the much-coveted seat of Ayodhya while the Nehru-Gandhi family regained its hold on the family bastion of Raebareli and Amethi, with Rahul Gandhi securing a victory with a record margin and KL Sharma hurling an embarrassing defeat on Smriti Irani.

PM Modi commandeered all the limelight during the consecration ceremony, while the day should have been left to priests, godmen, seers, and devotees. His political ambitions got the better of him, and he made a larger-than-life appearance solely aimed at nullifying his political opponents. However, his narcissistic conduct did not stand the test of time, even for four months.

The Akhilesh Yadav-Rahul Gandhi chemistry evoked unparalleled interest among youngsters in Uttar Pradesh. Contrary to the accusations of disunity among the INDIA bloc parties, the duo’s coming together aroused nostalgia, reminding the public of the UPA days when the national discourse was much more dignified, and brotherhood was prioritised over hatred and communal politics.

Overall, Samajwadi Party alone scored more seats than Modi’s BJP.

Major blunder in Bihar

The outcome in Bihar is not surprising to many, as the INDIA bloc was betrayed by Nitish Kumar’s JDU right before the elections. However, there is uncertainty whether the changed political equations will lead to another reversal by the JDU. The NDA has secured at least 29 of the 40 seats in Bihar, while the INDIA bloc managed barely seven when filing this report. Pappu Yadav won Purnia, which added another seat to the INDIA bloc.

So, where did the INDIA bloc go wrong in Bihar? Perhaps it was the importance granted to Tejashwi Yadav-led Rashtriya Janata Dal. The party has been unable to overcome the ghosts of its past and is still synonymous with corruption and minority appeasement. The RJD has a very bad reputation in Bihar and relies solely on the Muslim and Yadav vote bank, though Tejashwi managed to attract some first-time voters.

The Congress, which once had a strong presence in Bihar, played on a similar level as it did in Uttar Pradesh. As results show, there is no match between the Samajwadi Party and the RJD. The Congress will have to play on the front foot in Bhumihar-Brahmin-dominated belts, which are already reeling under the pressures of unemployment and inflation. The RJD will not attract these voters because it is simply synonymous with minority appeasement in the state. The Congress, on the other hand, can potentially rebuild the strong base it once had in the state.

Good gains in Rajasthan

In Rajasthan, the BJP has faced defeat in at least nine seats. The Congress leadership deserves praise for maintaining order among its cadres and uniting the state’s two top leaders, Sachin Pilot and Ashok Gehlot. Both leaders have their unique presence in the state and attract two very different sections of voters. One key reason for the success of the Congress is perhaps the low voter turnout in the first phase, several of which seats have swung to the INC.

The opposition also raised the controversial Agniveer scheme and the alleged threat to the Constitution, which helped the Congress’s success. The Congress aptly understood Rajasthan’s unique characteristic of prioritising caste over religion, which in turn did not work very well for the BJP, though they managed to retain at least 14 seats. The INDIA alliance could have prioritized the agrarian crisis to make further gains here.

Long road ahead

The Congress party may indulge in internal congratulations for some days but a deep introspection for the reasons behind its complete rout in Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh is the need of the hour.

The BJP played on the front foot from Day 1 in these two states, while the Congress did not put its heart and soul here. Jyotiraditya Scindia, the erstwhile mate of Rahul Gandhi, is a man to watch in Madhya Pradesh in the upcoming days. The Congress party should introspect and ask itself why it performed miserably in these two key states even when unemployment and inflation are record-high.

The Congress party lost its longtime stronghold of Chhindwara, which Kamal Nath had held, but the incumbent MP Nakul Nath lost by a margin of over one lakh votes. Former state chief minister Digvijay Singh also lost in Rajgarh. The Congress party failed to assess the ground realities in both Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh.

Ultimately, wins and losses combined, it is a clear indication of Rahul Gandhi’s rising appeal in the Hindi heartland. At the same time, it also gives us a larger message about the nature of our democracy and the country: that it will not only show doors to authoritative leaders but also not open its doors so easily to those who cater only to minority sentiments.

(Saket Suman is a journalist and author of The Psychology of a Patriot. Views are personal.)