‘We Did Not Have Great Expectations In Gujarat’: Chidambaram On Congress’s Loss

Senior Congress leader P Chidambaram stated on Sunday that the party is best positioned to be the “pole” around which a non-BJP front may be constructed for the 2024 general elections and claimed that the Aam Aadmi Party does not have much popularity outside of Delhi, with the exception of Haryana and Punjab, news agency PTI reported.

There are lessons to be learned by the Congress from the Gujarat defeat, according to Chidambaram, who also emphasised that there is no such thing as a “silent” campaign in a closely contested election.

He further said, in an interview with PTI, that the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) acted as a spoiler in Gujarat, as it had previously done in Goa and Uttarakhand.

“That is a huge setback for the BJP. The win in Gujarat, important as it is, cannot hide the fact that the BJP, the incumbent, was defeated decisively in Himachal Pradesh and MCD,” the former Union minister was quoted by PTI in its report.

He said that the Congress won by a clear majority of seats in Himachal and the AAP triumphed in the MCD polls.

“The overall margin of votes in Himachal Pradesh may be small, but it was not a state-wide presidential kind of election. It was a constituency-wise election and we have to look at the margin in each constituency,” he said.

When questioned regarding the Prime Minister emphasising the 1% vote share disparity between the Congress and the BJP in Himachal, Chidambaram stated: “In many of the 40 constituencies won by the Congress, the margins were sizable. A state-wide margin is an inappropriate measure in a constituency-wise election.”

When asked about the Congress’ failure in Gujarat and the low-key campaign there, Chidambaram replied he was unfamiliar with the strategy, if any, used in the state.

“My sense was the Congress did not have great expectations in Gujarat. As a general rule, I believe that in every election the party must put its best forward and throw into the battle all the available resources – human, material and digital,” he said.

He said that the Gujarat Pradesh Congress Committee should have mobilised and used the greatest human resources available in the Congress across the country for the campaign.

“I also believe that there is no such thing as a ‘silent’ campaign in a hard-fought election. There are lessons to be learnt from the Gujarat loss,” he said.

On whether the AAP will challenge the Congress’ leadership of the Opposition block after winning MCD elections and garnering almost 13% of the vote share in Gujarat, Chidambaram stated that the AAP’s victory in the MCD election was not surprising given that it is the ruling party in Delhi.

He said that the BJP bore the burden of 15 years of incumbency in the MCD and that the Congress was not a genuine competitor.

“However, in Gujarat, the AAP played the spoiler’s role, like it did earlier in Goa and Uttarakhand. The AAP dented the chances of the Congress in 33 seats in Gujarat,” Chidambaram said.

“I do not think the AAP has much appeal outside Delhi except perhaps (in) Haryana and Punjab. As the AAP travels further from Delhi, it will find that its appeal diminishes,” he said.

It makes little difference whether the AAP qualifies for the title of “national” party or not, he said.

“Yes, the Congress is best placed to be the pole around which a non-BJP front can be built,” Chidambaram stated when asked whether the Congress still remains the fulcrum of the Opposition alliance to take on the BJP in 2024 polls.

Highlighting Opposition’s unity, he said, “Opposition unity has always been difficult to build and maintain. Remember 1977 and 1989? If the Congress undertakes the task with humility and if the other parties undertake the task with realism, I think it is possible to forge unity for an electoral alliance.”

Concerning the poll results and their implications for the route to the 2024 general elections, he stated that there is a 2023 election and elections in other states, including Karnataka, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, and Chhattisgarh, before 2024.

Along with the outcomes of the three previous elections in 2022, he believes the next state elections next year would lay the groundwork for the Lok Sabha elections in 2024.

“How well the BJP will do and how well the Congress and other non-BJP parties will do in the state elections will undoubtedly play a major role in determining the outcome of the Lok Sabha elections,” Chidambaram opined.

When asked if the Bharat Jodo Yatra had any influence on the just finished elections and if it will yield any electoral dividends to the party in the future, he said Rahul Gandhi made it plain from the start that the Bharat Jodo Yatra’s goal was not to gain political rewards.

“Its goals were larger and with a long time view. I did not expect the BJY to influence the election in a state that the Bharat Jodo Yatra did not traverse. What impact it may have in the states that it traversed remains to be seen,” Chidambaram said.

The BJP won a record 156 seats in Gujarat assembly elections with an astounding 52.5 percent vote share, dwarfing the Opposition Congress and the AAP, who received over 27 percent and approximately 13 percent vote share, respectively. The Congress received only 17 seats, while the AAP received five. Three seats were won by independents, and one by the Samajwadi Party.

The Congress won 40 seats and 43.9 percent of the vote in Himachal Pradesh. The BJP won 25 seats with 43% of the vote, while independents got three seats.

(With Inputs From PTI)

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