In a significant turn of events before the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, the Congress has trumped the Bharatiya Janata Party in the Assemblies of three Hindi heartland states – Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan.

In Chhattisgarh, where the BJP was looking for a fourth term, the Congress decimated the saffron party to win 68 of 90 seats. In Madhya Pradesh, the Congress emerged the single largest party with 114 seats against BJP’s 109 seats in the 230-member House. The BJP, under Shivraj Singh Chouhan had ruled the state for 15 years. In Rajasthan, the Congress finished just two short of the majority mark, at 99, with the BJP winning 73 seats.

In Telangana, the Telangana Rashtra Samithi routed the opposition by winning a massive mandate – 88 seats of the 119-member Assembly. The main Opposition party in Mizoram, the Mizo National Front, emerged victorious with 26 seats out of 40, with the ruling Congress left far behind at only five seats.

The Mumbai Mirror summed up the resurgence of the Congress and Rahul Gandhi with its headline “Talk to the Hand”. The tabloid said the victories were good enough for the Congress “which had been floundering in the shallows of 44 since the pummelling in 2014” Lok Sabha elections.

“He [Rahul Gandhi] surrendered to populism, hopping from temple to temple which would have no doubt galled his great-grandfather Jawaharlal Nehru,” Mumbai Mirror reported.

“Hand on Heartland” read the headline on the front page of the Hindustan Times, highlighting the Congress’ victory in Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan. Two of the three states were a BJP bastion for the last 15 years.

The newspaper reported that the “Modi factor” could not overcome ground realities, adding that the three victories have made Congress a formidable contender in 2019 Lok Sabha elections. In an article titled “BJP pays price for agrarian distress, employment crisis”, the newspaper quoted party strategists as saying that the saffron party had failed to anticipate the “impact of Congress’ farm loan waiver promise” in the three states.

The Times of India’s headline, “For Rahul, A Happy 1st anniversary”, reminded its readers of Rahul Gandhi’s completion of a year as president of the Congress.

“BJP’s defeat clears the way for a closer LS contest in April-May, and undercut the thesis of Modi being a shoo-in for re-election in 2019,” the newspaper reported. In another highlight on the front page, the newspaper noted that while the result has rejuvenated the Opposition, forging a coalition might not be so simple. “A stronger Congress may not be deferential to regional players, who will insist on calling the shots on their turfs. BJP will be eager to fish in troubled waters,” it said.

The Hindu ran with the headline “It’s advantage Congress” on its front page. It noted that the defeats were a setback to the BJP in the Hindi heartland and a morale boost for the Congress ahead of the General Elections next summer.

The newspaper also reported the victories of the Telangana Rashtra Samithi and the Mizo National Front in Telangana and Mizoram. “Weak alliance partners, joining hands with the TDP, absence of a popular leader and an enormous delay in the finalisation of the list of candidates seemed to have affected the Congress’s prospects in the first Assembly election held after the formation of the state,” it reported.

“Cong brings BJP 3 notches down” read The Indian Express headline. The newspaper noted that the BJP’s tally in the Lok Sabha elections in 2014 in the three states was 62 out of 65 seats. The Indian Express said its analysis revealed that “the BJP may lose as many as 31 Lok Sabha seats if the latest revealed vote preferences hold true for respective Lok Sabha seats.”

Hindi newspaper Dainik Bhaskar’s headline read “After Modi’s notebank, voters’ voteban”. The newspaper noted that it was “Achhe Din” for the Congress and that this was the BJP’s biggest defeat.

Amar Ujala pointed out in its headline, “The victory march of the BJP has been stopped while the Congress has got a new lease of life”. The paper said this was the first time Modi has seen reverses during his time in office.

Dainik Jagran’s headline read, “Roses for the Congress, thorns for the BJP” calling the five state elections a “semi-final” for the upcoming Lok Sabha elections and one in which the BJP was unable to even open its account.

Meanwhile, Marathi daily Loksatta’s headline said “Acche Din for Congress”, spelling a warning for the BJP ahead of the 2019 elections and highlighting the significance of the three states it had lost.

Shiv Sena’s mouthpiece Saamana carried an article titled “Namoharam”, meaning “Modi’s defeat”. Saamana said the elections outcome was nothing short of a humiliation for the BJP and its pride. “The people have scorned pride and arrogance,” it added. The Shiv Sena is an ally in the National Democratic Alliance government led by the BJP.

Tamil paper Dinakaran’s front page headline read “Congress rule in three states - BJP loses its power in Rajasthan, Chattisgarh, MP”. The report stated, “BJP’s expected loss in the elections has left them in shock”.

Dinamani also highlighted the Congress’ wins, with a detailed report on the Telangana results.

The front page of Hindu Tamizh Tisai carried a headlineCongress scores in Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh, MP”. It added that BJP faced a major setback in the assembly elections in five states.

Dina Thanthi newspaper’s front page headline read – “Setback for BJP in 5 states”. The newspaper termed the Assembly elections in the five states a “mini parliamentary election” and a test for the BJP at a time when the Congress, the Telugu Desam Party, the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam and other Opposition parties were coming together to fight it.

The BJP’s dream and the Narendra Modi-Amit Shah duo’s plans of a “Congress-mukt Bharat” has been disrupted, said Kannada newspaper Prajavani. It said the Congress has come back in three states in the Hindi heartland, but it is a “Congress-mukt North East India”. The results prove that, despite the prime minister’s oratory skills, people have stopped believing in his words, the newspaper said.

A major cause for the verdict against the BJP in the Assembly elections was people’s disappointment, especially in rural areas, said another Kannada newspaper Vijaya Karnataka. Citing an example, the article spoke about a rally in Rajasthan, where Modi had criticised Rahul Gandhi for allegedly not knowing the names of nuts but still wanting to teach farmers about agriculture. But for farmers, the newspaper said, what Rahul Gandhi knows is less important than what Modi has done for them.

Newspaper: Prajavani
Newspaper: Prajavani

The Malayala Manorama went with the headline “Touching heart with the ‘hand’”. “Congress comes back in Hindi heartland: Gets 2/3 majority in Chattisgarh; gains simple majority in Rajasthan; Congress in for a chance to rule Madhya Pradesh,” the newspaper reported.

“BJP collapses, Congress rises” was the headline for Malayalam newspaper Mathrubhumi.

The newspapers also carried cartoons on their front pages.