The District That Decided Gujarat – Why Congress Failed in Surat
Where did the Congress go wrong in Surat?
Where did the Congress go wrong in Surat?(Photo: Erum Gour/The Quint)

The District That Decided Gujarat – Why Congress Failed in Surat

If there is one district that determined the fate of the Gujarat election and the battle of prestige on Narendra Modi’s home turf, it has to be the trader-dominated district of Surat. Modi swept Surat in the 2012 Assembly polls, and Modi swept Surat today. In fact, he went home with 14 of Surat’s 16 seats. But the Congress’ opportunity cost, and arguably their biggest blunder this election, lies between the lines right here.

In July this year, lakhs of traders, primarily from the textile industry, hit the streets to protest against the hasty imposition of the Goods and Services Tax (GST). Significantly enough, the protests were being led by members of the BJP.

The government did not take kindly to the protests. The traders were lathicharged. The anger only mounted.

But at a time when the relationship between the traders of Surat and their party of choice was at its weakest, the Congress was nowhere to be seen. The elections were still five months away, after all. It wasn’t yet time to hit the ground and start the fight. Or so thought the Congress. And boy, were they wrong!
If the Congress had even split honours with the BJP in Surat at eight seats apiece, the BJP tally would have been down to 93. That’s just one more than the magic figure in the 182-seat Assembly.

Congress: MIA When It Mattered

When the Congress is done celebrating how close the contest in Gujarat was, and the party’s top rung sits down to introspect on these elections, they would do well to wonder whether the bout began a bit too late. The first blow could have been theirs, and it would have hit home strongest in July.

When evocative visuals of textile traders being lathicharged flooded social media at the time, the grand old party was still asleep. It would not be till a few months later that Rahul Gandhi’s first Navsarjan Yatra began their election campaign.

The mainstream media, especially the TV channels, did not make much noise about the massive Surat protests. But does that even surprise you anymore?

The real question thats begs asking is this – when the voter sentiment was swinging hardest against the BJP, and Modinomics was tugging at the aam Gujarati’s purse, could the Congress not have mobilised itself to capitalise on the circumstances? Need they have waited those extra few months to rail against what Rahul eventually called the “Gabbar Singh Tax”?

The Grand Deception of Surat?

Surat confused everybody. It was the venue of Hardik Patel’s biggest rally in this entire election season. Take a look at the crowds that had gathered to cheer on the Patidar agitator.

When Hardik vowed to vote against the BJP, the crowd joined in. But the vows were clearly not kept when polling day came around. And no matter how much Hardik cribs today about “a massive EVM fraud”, the numbers will not change.

The masses gathered, they heard, they cheered and then they voted against the Congress.

Today, as the Congress falls short of the magic figure of 92 by merely 12 seats, they must surely be rueing Surat’s grand deception. Will the party realise, though, that it’s not enough to fight an election when it comes knocking on the door, but to prepare for it for months and maybe even years in advance?

They need look no further than the BJP’s concerted, consistent efforts in states like Kerala and West Bengal. In regions where the BJP is little more than a mere footprint, repeated rallies by the party’s top brass shows a commitment that the Congress has lacked so far.

Whether you call it the BJP’s killer instinct, or its tenacity to fight tooth and nail, it’s a skill the Congress must acquire quickly. 2019 is not too far away. And even before the final, many an important election awaits next year. From Karnataka (due for polls in early 2018) to Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan later in the year, the fight must begin soon. And the preparation must begin now.

Any other way, and the Congress could be left biting the dust yet again.

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