The Congress was hoping to end its prolonged electoral drought as most exit polls aired by TV networks predicted that the party would make gains in the Hindi heartland states of Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh — all ruled by the BJP now. In Telangana, the ruling TRS was projected to be ahead of the Congress-led grand alliance.
Three of the four polls predicted that in Madhya Pradesh Congress would emerge as the single largest party. Two polls gave it a clear majority.
Going by exit polls projections, it is photo finish in Chhattisgarh. While two polls gave Congress an advantage, two others predicted that the BJP government may retain power. The BJP has been in power in Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh for 15 years.
Four polls predicted a Congress victory in Rajasthan, with almost all giving it numbers well over the halfway mark of 100. In 2013, the BJP had ousted the Congress from power in the state.
In Telangana, exit polls showed TRS is in an advantageous position despite Congress forging a grand alliance with the TDP, CPI and the Telangana Jan Samithi.
If these forecasts hold true, Congress, which has been losing state after state since 2014 elections, will get a booster shot in the run-up to the 2019 elections.
It may be noted that of the 22 states that went to polls since 2014, Congress has won on its own only in Punjab in 2017 Puducherry in 2016.
The Congress suffered losses in Karnataka but managed to form the government with JD(S) in Karnataka to keep the BJP out of power.
The outcome of the elections is significant as Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan account for 65 Lok Sabha seats, of which the BJP had won 62 in 2014 when the Narendra Modi wave swept the Hindi heartland.
Agrarian distress emerged as one of the significant issues raised by Congress in its campaign. A good showing in these states would pro-mpt Con-gress to step up its attack on the government on farm distress, an issue which put the BJP on the backfoot a year ago in Gujarat as well.
Gains for Congress in these states would bolster the grand old party’s claim that it is the natural pivot of any possible pan-Indian alliance against the BJP. And it will give Congress bragging rights on Rahul Gandhi’s leadership although it has maintained that it may not project him as the prime ministerial candidate signalling that such issues can be dealt with after the general elections.
Any setback to the BJP will also be translated into a more testy Parliament session beginning December 11, the day of the results.