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To stay in the game, it needs to re-introduce itself to a changing electorate. For BJP, a moment to build on.
If there is a message that binds Sunday's set of four assembly poll verdicts, it is that of the voter's alienation from the Congress, her growing anger with the party. While each scorecard will be read more closely to coax out its specific messages, the expression of a building anti-Congressism rings out across the different political contexts and states. Its most remarkable image belongs to Delhi, where three-time chief minister Sheila Dikshit has been defeated by debutant Arvind Kejriwal of the AAP, which has also laid her government low. But it is anti-Congressism again that accounts for the yawning gap between the party and the victor, the BJP, in Rajasthan and MP, with the Congress only seeming to put up a fight in Chhattisgarh. In the end, it might be an overstatement to attribute the BJP's showing in the four states to the aggressive campaigning by Narendra Modi, given the energetic role played by local leaders in states where it has notched its decisive victories — though the results are certain to lend force to Modi's prime ministerial campaign. But the electorate's rejection of the Congress needs no local nuancing. The party has no fig leaves to hide behind — neither a rote law of anti-incumbency, nor the difference between the voters' calculus for the assembly and general elections, can explain the humbling.
These elections have injected some new questions in the polity. Could it be that an anti-corruption platform can be a winning one, in more cynical times, more than two decades after V.P. Singh deployed it to trounce Rajiv Gandhi in the 1989 elections? Or, can a political force born of a disavowal of politics eventually grow into a political alternative that also bridges caste and regional divides? And, is it possible that the politics of populist schemes has also bumped up against its limits, just as identity-centred politics did before it? This last question is most starkly framed in Rajasthan. Here, outgoing chief minister Ashok Gehlot's array of supposedly crowd-pleasing sops and schemes was capped by the promise to provide 35 kg of wheat free to all families in the state, except income tax payers. The Congress washout here is a warning against an electoral strategy that relies on an indiscriminate, blind populism.