New Delhi: It took Rahul Gandhi and the Congress more than five years and seven Assembly elections to finally defeat the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in a direct contest. The victory on Tuesday was even more satisfying considering that the Congress won Chhattisgarh and was on course to be the single largest party in Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh.

The win propels the Congress, which had been on a decline in electoral politics, as the key contender to Prime Minister Narendra Modi-led BJP in the run-up to the 2019 general elections. Senior party leaders said that the massive win sends a clear signal to all opposition parties that the BJP can be defeated in its own bastions.

“For us, this result is the first big indication of the downward spiral of the BJP-led government. The two key factors—direct fight and no alliance support—will send a message that the BJP is not invincible. Tuesday’s results has also established Rahul Gandhi’s leadership both within the party and outside, and that will help us in the long run," said a senior Congress leader and former Union minister, requesting anonymity.

The ongoing polls was a high stakes battle for the Congress, which swept Chhattisgarh and just about crossed the halfway mark in Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh. However, its loss in Mizoram was a set back. In Rajasthan, the party’s worries over factionalism continued and it also got a reality check in terms of being more accommodative in alliance politics.

“It is a fact that in both Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan smaller parties and independents played spoilsport. In case of a pre-poll alliance, our numbers would have been more consolidated. However, a reasoned call was taken that we had to take the risk of contesting and winning this election on our own rather than rely on alliance partners. One would say the bet has paid off," another senior party leader said, also requesting anonymity.

Congress leaders said Tuesday’s results will boost the morale of the cadres, who were feeling the pressure over the party’s repeated electoral losses. They also said the victories were critical for Gandhi both as the party president and as a lead Congress campaigner.

“A few months after Sonia Gandhi took over as Congress president in 1998, she had cemented her position in the party after the results of Rajasthan and united Madhya Pradesh. For Rahul Gandhi, too, this result will have a similar impact, as he establishes his leadership not just within the party but also outside," said a senior party leader close to Sonia Gandhi, requesting anonymity.

Incidentally, the victory comes on a day that marked Rahul Gandhi’s one year as Congress president-

Tuesday also marked Gandhi’s one year as Congress president. Ahead of 2019, he continues to be the face of bringing together anti-BJP parties on a common electoral platform.

“Today’s results brings the Congress back to winning ways. It also gives an indication that the Congress continues to have the political and electoral capacity to win an election against the BJP," said Sandeep Shastri, pro-vice chancellor, Jain University, and director, Centre for Research in Social Sciences and Education. “One cannot deny that the Congress won these three states with Rahul Gandhi as party chief. Under his leadership, the Congress is developing a distinct style wherein the regional satraps are taken along. It is both a reflection of his capacity and the recognition of such a requirement emerging," said Shastri,

“This victory is of the Congress party’s workers, farmers and the youth and small traders. There is a big responsibility on the Congress party now. We are going to work in these three states and try and ensure that they have a vision and a future," Rahul Gandhi said during a press conference on Tuesday.

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