Elections, 2012: Verdict for Rahul today

FP

Its government on the defensive at the Centre, its allies forcing it to roll back or freeze key policy decisions, the ruling Congress was keeping its fingers crossed tonight on the eve of the five Assembly election results hoping to ride anti-incumbency in three states and buck it in the other two.

However, most exit polls haven't brought good news for the party. Some have nudged it to fourth place in Uttar Pradesh, others have even kept it in the hunt for power in Punjab and Uttarakhand, Manipur and Goa.

What happens today could affect equations at the Centre as the UPA prepares to enter the crucial budget session of Parliament in less than a fortnight. This amid a deepening distrust between the government and opposition since the midnight farce in Rajya Sabha over the Lokpal Bill.

As Congress president Sonia Gandhi returned from the US today after a "routine medical check-up", party managers were putting up a brave face. Given how Rahul Gandhi, the party's face of the future, came to define his campaign in Uttar Pradesh — he addressed over 200 rallies and tore into both the Samajwadi Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party — many party leaders were trying to insulate him from any adverse outcome.

Dismissing the exit polls, therefore, union minister Salman Khurshid said today that he expected the Congress to do much better. He said that Rahul was in UP for the long haul and his mission was to revive the party in the Hindi heartland. "If you have heard his speeches, he's talked about a long-term engagement with UP... Nobody else went into that kind of depth and that kind of vision as Rahul Gandhi did. It's the first time that the UP electorate heard somebody speak with passion, speak with involvement and speak with commitment," said Khurshid.

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