New Delhi: Former Rajasthan chief minister Ashok Gehlot is largely credited for the Congress putting up a tough fight in the Gujarat elections. In an interview, Gehlot speaks about how the results will set the tone for the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, adding that the countdown for the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) ouster from power has begun. Edited excerpts:

Tell us about your Gujarat experience.

The experience was good and I believe this is a new beginning (for the party).... The people of Gujarat gave us a lot of love and blessings; it was an extraordinary experience. The BJP did not have any issues in the elections while Rahul Gandhi focussed on issue-based politics.

The allegation that Congress indulged in caste politics is wrong because it is the BJP which is involved in caste politics. The statements by BJP leaders are completely wrong. The BJP is now saying it contested the election on the issue of development, but there was no talk of development in their campaign.

The prime minister made an emotional appeal to the people that he is a son of the soil, and he was being insulted by outsiders. Doesn’t Modi go to any other state? People keep visiting different states in a democracy.

Congress has lost in many states since the 2014 Lok Sabha elections. How was the strategy different this time?

The (Gujarat election) campaign was issue-based, conducted with grace. Rahul Gandhi gave a lot of time to the campaign. BJP didn’t have a reply to charges against Amit Shah’s son. BJP changed the focus of the campaign whenever it was questioned on development.

The prime minister wants to rule the country through marketing. Everybody respects the prime minister, and Rahul Gandhi has categorically stated that we should not make comments which lower the dignity of the prime minister.

There has been criticism that the Congress outsourced its campaign to leaders like Hardik Patel. Your take?

Our campaign was good. The protests and agitations by Alpesh Thakor, Jignesh Mevani and Hardik Patel had started a long time ago and the Congress campaign started in July.

With Rahul Gandhi taking over as Congress president, what is the long-term impact going to be on the party?

The start of this happened in Gujarat when people saw his aura, his talent, and his guts during the campaign. This is a good sign for the Congress. The countdown for BJP has started. And Congress is going to go ahead from here and its start has happened from Gujarat. The tempo is going to be maintained; this is going to be our campaign style. The party is going to stay united in all states. From Wednesday, a three-day review meeting will start in Ahmedabad on the results of this election. We are going to thank our workers and the people. This is the beginning of an exercise that he is going to attend.

Congress faces the problem of young blood versus the old guard. How do you see this playing out?

Rahul Gandhi has already conveyed that everyone should work with confidence and that the knowledge of seniors should be benefited from. He takes experienced and younger people together. I have been seeing from the time of Indira Gandhi, Rajiv Gandhi and Sonia Gandhi—all of them took along both the young and the old. Rahul Gandhi too will do this.

Rahul Gandhi visited a lot of temples during the campaign...

This is their work, not ours. We always go by the Congress’s ideology and principles. These people have caste-based meetings, divide people in the name of religion. This time it did not work. They did not succeed in polarizing people this time.

What according to you has been the biggest takeaway from the Gujarat elections?

Gujarat is PM Modi and Amit Shah’s home turf. Congress was united in the fight. The way Rahul Gandhi campaigned and the way we canvassed door-to-door have sent a message to the country that there is a new wave of enthusiasm in the party’s rank and file. This is no longer limited to Gujarat—the message has gone to the entire country. In a way this election proved to be a boon for the Congress party and Rahul Gandhi has a key role to play in this.

Key state elections where the Congress and the BJP are pitted against each other are coming up. How do you see the road ahead?

There are a lot of state elections coming up. I feel that since their countdown has started, a favourable result (for Congress) will not be a surprise. Congress’s target is 2019. We are going to keep that in mind and campaign accordingly. Rahul Gandhi’s focus too is the 2019 elections.

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