'This 'bhai-behen ki jodi' has done a wonderful job for the Congress.'

'This 'bhai-behen ki jodi' has done a wonderful job for the Congress.'

The Indian National Congress surprised everyone by winning 99 seats, a milestone which no exit polls or pollster predicted.

In 2014 the Congress won 44 seats. In 2019, the party won 55 seats.

In 2024, the Congress won 44 more Lok Sabha seats than its 2019 tally.

The Congress won 21.19 percent votes and did much better than the Bharatiya Janata Party in states like Maharashtra where it won 13 seats, four more than the BJP which won 9 seats.

"The BJP coalition has won the elections but is feeling the taste of defeat whereas the Congress and its alliance partners who will sit in the Opposition are feeling the day of triumph,"

Rasheed Kidwai, the veteran Congress watcher and author of 24 Akbar Road and Sonia A Biography, tells Syed Firdaus Ashraf/Rediff.com.

How do you see this tally of 99 seats for the Congress?

This is like 'sanjeevani' for the Congress. In the past, the Congress had suffered electoral setbacks, like in 1979, 1989 and 1996, but never faced an existential crisis or a crisis of confidence.

This kind of victory re-establishes Rahul Gandhi's authority (over the party).

But the Congress' seats are far less than that of the BJP, which won 240 seats.

This victory is not more in terms of seats, but more so in terms of vote share. In a country like India it is very difficult for a political party to increase its vote share.

In 2014 and 2019, the Congress had a vote share of 19 percent. Now if its vote share goes up to reach 27 percent, then that is a big jump.

It is a monumental shift because this means 100 million more votes.

Exit polls gave a minimum of 300 plus seats for the BJP.

The BJP became a victim of its own propaganda. If you look at the result in a dispassionate manner, then the BJP has not performed badly as they are able to form the government with its coalition partners.

They will get a workable majority, but they hyped 'Brand Modi' and said all kinds of things about the Opposition parties. A section of the media fell for that narrative.

Exit polls then added to this atmosphere of the BJP winning big. Modi thrives on this battle of optics and perception, but this time it boomeranged.

It is a paradoxical situation. The BJP coalition has won the elections but is feeling the taste of defeat whereas the Congress and its alliance partners who will sit in the Opposition are feeling the day of triumph.

Modi has never trailed in electoral politics, but in Varanasi he trailed initially.

Which states delivered setbacks to the BJP?

Three states. Firstly, Uttar Pradesh where the BJP fared badly. They had everything going for them.

The double engine sarkar of Yogi and Modi. They had improved the law and order situation. The Ram Mandir in Ayodhya.

The impression the BJP created is as if Rahul and Akhilesh (Yadav, the Samajwadi Party leader) are 'UP ke ladke' and they are shehzadas.

In reality, the shehzadas defeated Amit Shah who was the architect of the BJP's electoral politics.

The second state that contributed to the BJP's loss was Maharashtra where you had three parties split: The Congress, the Nationalist Congress Party (Sharad Pawar) and the Shiv Sena (Uddhav Balasaheb Thackeray).

The state rejected the BJP and its alliance partners. Had the BJP gone alone they would have done better, but then there are not 'ifs' and 'buts' in history.

The third state where the BJP failed badly was West Bengal. They did not get as many seats as they got last time (18 seats). Mamata Banerjee has done very well.

Modi also won the Lok Sabha election in Varanasi by the smallest margin of victory in three elections. 

In which states did the Congress do well?

The Congress has not only improved vote share but also its strike rate in winning seats.

They have done very well in Maharashtra and Haryana where in the next six months elections are going to be conducted.

The Congress has a great future ahead. Rahul Gandhi is going to turn 54 as he is 1970 born and in India political leaders peak when they are around 60.

This 'bhai-behen ki jodi' has done a wonderful job for the Congress. Priyanka Gandhi was a very effective campaigner.

They came together and defeated Smriti Irani in Amethi by fielding a political lightweight.

What about Mr Kharge? Will he get credit for this victory?

There is a fair amount of increase in Dalit votes for the Congress party. Mayawati's vote base has shifted to them this time.

If you see states like Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh, Punjab and Haryana, Dalits have played a very important role in contributing to the Congress's victory.

Kharge (a Dalit himself) has managed to make a dent in Dalit votes and got them for the Congress.

The Muslim community has voted in a very tactical manner and supported the Congress in different states.

The Congress has now got 27 percent of base votes and they can always expand this in the future.

Did the Dalits get worried with BJP slogans like '400 paar' as they thought the BJP would change the Constitution and deprive them of reservation in jobs and education?

The BJP became victim of its own propaganda. The BJP slogan '400 paar' made 'Bhim-Meem' (Dalits-Muslims) come together on one platform.

I saw this combination working in Uttar Pradesh because both these communities voted for the INDIA alliance.

Akhilesh Yadav and Rahul Gandhi played their cards very well to keep these two communities united.

Both of them did not give many tickets to Muslims and Yadavs ensuring that other communities do not feel left out in ticket distribution.

They included non-Yadavs and Dalits in large numbers to their fold.

What happened in Rajasthan and Haryana? Why did the Congress gain?

In Jat land the Congress got huge victory. Earlier, the BJP used to win 90 percent plus seats when it took the Congress head on.

Now, that has reduced to a 65:35 ratio favouring the BJP. This is a huge achievement for the Congress.

Rahul Gandhi is now going to stay and tbis 'bhai-behen ki jodi will create problems for Modi in future.

There are states like Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh where the Congress has been wiped out.

Many lessons need to be learnt for the Congress from states like Rajasthan where they fought like a team.

Ashok Gehlot and Sachin Pilot came together and fought like a team.

Govind Singh Dotasara, a Jat leader who was Pradesh Congress Committee chief, led the election battle from the front against the BJP.

There was a consolidation of Jat, Gujjar, Meena plus minority votes that led to consolidation of votes for the Congress.

This shows that if regional satraps work on the ground it works wonders.

I recall meeting Dotasara before the elections and he told me that if the Congress does not win 7 Lok Sabha seats he would resign because at that time it looked like the Congress would not win even seven seats (in Rajasthan). And he proved his point.

In Madhya Pradesh, Congress regional satraps were missing.

Digvijay Singh was busy in his own elections and he lost his seat too.

2024 has given a ray of hope to the Opposition parties.

If you work on the ground and if you are a 24/7 politician like Mamata, Sharad Pawar or Uddhav Thackeray you have the potential to checkmate and corner Modi.

Does it mean people who voted for the Congress voted for Rahul Gandhi and see him as a serious politician?

Rahul Gandhi was a serious politician; it was social media which lampooned his image. He was made the subject of ridicule and portrayed as a non-serious politician on social media by the BJP as they always knew he is a serious challenger to them and is from the Nehru-Gandhi family.

What about Priyanka Gandhi? How did she contribute in reviving the Congress this election?

She campaigned very effectively. Lots of Congress candidates sought Priyanka Gandhi to campaign for them.

She also responded to Modi's allegation against the Congress in very dignified manner.