New Delhi: For a party that lost its top state leadership to a deadly Naxal attack, this victory is emblematic of the resilience of the Congress. On 25 May 2013, gunshots rang out in the densely-forested region of Chhattisgarh’s Jeeram Ghati.

Heavily-armed Maoist rebels ambushed a convoy of Congress workers, killing senior leaders Mahendra Karma and V.C. Shukla. The then state party chief Nandkumar Patel, too, was gunned down by the Naxalites near Chhattisgarh’s Sukma district, considered one of the most volatile areas in the red corridor. Six months later, the Congress suffered its third successive loss at the hands of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the 2013 assembly elections. India’s premier political party was all at sea in one of the youngest states.

Fast forward to November 2018 and miasma of political listlessness that engulfed the Congress five years ago has given way to a spectacular sunrise. Winning a whopping 65 seats with a commanding vote share of 42.8%, 10 percentage points more than the BJP, is an achievement that not only signals the resurgence of the Congress in Chhattisgarh but also represents one of the best stories of a political turnaround in India.

“We were in a situation that could not get any worse. We had no single statewide leader to take on Raman Singh, a very popular leader and accepted face, and there was no party organisation worth the name, largely because of the negative impact that Ajit Jogi and his politics had on the people," recalls a newly-elected Congress legislator who lost in 2013. This legislator, who did not want to be named, said the Congress turnaround was a result of strategy, collective responsibility, and anti-incumbency against both Prime Minister Narendra Modi and chief minister Raman Singh. “The strategy to not name a chief ministerial candidate was taken with the aim of not making Raman Singh look bigger than he is. We knew that if we named a candidate, he would be compared with Raman Singh, and the latter would benefit from it. So we decided to fight a campaign under collective leadership," said the Congress legislator.

Another Congress leader said the party sensed the scale of rural distress much before the BJP. “We knew in 2017 itself that rural sentiment was turning against the BJP. We just had to offer an alternative, which we did by promising farm loan waiver and higher MSP for paddy," the leader said, requesting anonymity.

Senior Congress leaders from Dantewada said that campaigning had become next to impossible with almost every party worker and leader being targeted by the Naxals.

“We are on the Naxals’ target list. However, we are still trying to pick up from where the leadership left before they were killed in 2013," said a senior Congress worker in Dantewada. In Konta, party workers said not only have they battled the obvious threat of Naxals, but they also managed to overcome the foothold that the BJP had established in the last 15 years.

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