Ahmedabad: A re-energized Congress, after putting up its best performance in the last two-and-a-half decades in the just concluded Gujarat assembly elections, is now focusing on winning at least half of the 26 seats in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections.

For this, the party is chalking out a strategy that focuses on rural and semi-urban areas where it added about 14 seats in the December elections to its 2012 tally. The state elections saw the Congress increasing its overall tally to 77 seats as compared to 61 in 2012.

Congress president Rahul Gandhi campaigned in Gujarat ahead of the assembly elections by holding rallies that were named Navsarjan (resurgent) Gujarat and the results indicate that a resurgence of the Gujarat Congress itself is on the cards.

As most of its top state leaders have lost the elections, the party is looking to strengthen its position in rural areas by naming a new face as leader of the opposition in the assembly.

Gujarat is the home state of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) won all 26 seats in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections. Another state where BJP won all the seats in 2014 was neighbouring Rajasthan where it bagged 25 seats.

“Based on our performance in the recent state elections we have identified nine seats, all in rural areas, where the Congress is sure to win in 2019 general elections. We have identified another five Lok Sabha constituencies that we can win if we put in enough efforts," said Manish Doshi, Gujarat Congress spokesperson.

While Congress candidates won 77 seats, the Bharatiya Tribal Party that had entered into a pre-poll alliance with Congress won 2 seats while one seat was won by independent candidate Jignesh Mevani who was supported by the Congress. So, the overall tally Congress-led alliance stands at 80, 12 short of a simple majority in the 182-member assembly. The BJP managed to hold on to power, although with a reduced score of 99 seats against 115 in 2012.

Farm and rural distress is said to be a major factor behind Congress’s improved performance in rural areas. Another advantage for the party is that in the 2015 local body elections, it wrested 23 of 31 district panchayats and 113 of 193 taluka panchayats.

Congress MLA from Amreli, Paresh Dhanani said that while the people of rural areas have voted for a change, a similar change would be seen in urban areas in the 2019 general elections. “The BJP tally of ‘nervous’ 99 has shown that people want change. We have done an internal review of seat-wise performance and are working to make significant changes in our strategy—from campaigning to strengthening our organization at the booth level. In the 2019 elections, we will win one seat more than BJP in Gujarat," said Dhanani.

He said that the party has also set a target of winning “135 seats" in the 2022 state elections and is working to strengthen its base in urban areas where the BJP has a stronghold. He said the party is working on winning 16 seats where the Congress candidates lost by a narrow margins of 250 to 2,900 votes.

“People wanted change but somewhere we missed converting people’s anger and frustration against the ruling BJP into votes. Many aspects like the selection procedure of 10-15 candidates, our booth level management and our booth to ballot strategy did not work for us and we are looking into all such aspects," said Doshi.

He said that the party would carry out various movements in the state to address issues like education, jobs and farm distress.

Most of the Congress’s top state leaders like Shaktisinh Gohil, Arjun Modhwadia, Siddharth Patel and Tushar Chaudhary lost the elections. Forty-one-year old Dhanani has emerged as a front runner for the post of leader of the opposition, according to a Congress official who did not wish to be named.

A close confidant of Gandhi, Dhanani said that it was for the party to decide. Senior Congress leaders Jitendra Singh and Ashok Gehlot will visit the state on 3 January to take a call on this.

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