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Now comes the hard part for the Congress

Now comes the hard part for the Congress
Highlights

Winning, although narrowly in Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh, was the easy part for the Congress The favourable signals were there from the partys earlier byelection victories in the two States

Winning, although narrowly in Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh, was the easy part for the Congress. The favourable signals were there from the party's earlier by-election victories in the two States. But despite the Congress's latest success, what must be worrying for the party is that it missed losing by a hair's breadth, given how close the voting percentages were for the two contenders - 39.3 per cent for the Congress in Rajasthan against 38.8 for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and 40.9 per cent in Madhya Pradesh for the Congress against the BJP's 41.

What this means for the Congress is that it doesn't have a moment to lose to show that it can provide better governance than its predecessor. There is no time for the party to bask in the glory of having risen like a Phoenix from the ashes of the 2014 drubbing. It has to hit the ground running, as the phrase goes. It will not do for the Congress to bank only on populist measure like loan waivers for farmers which are frowned upon by economists as sops which ultimately help neither the farmers nor the agricultural economy.

The loan waivers are in line with Sonia Gandhi's favourite rural employment scheme of the Manmohan Singh government which was of no help to the party in 2014. Nor will the pursuit of a ‘soft’ Hindutva line to project the Congress as a BJP minus the gau rakshaks be of any help. Instead, the party will have to take definitive steps to demonstrate that it means business in dealing with agrarian distress and unemployment - the two main factors which brought about the BJP's downfall.

Neither of the two steps will be easy for a State government, especially when there is an unfriendly regime at the Centre, waiting to see how it fumbles. But an emphasis on irrigation and on groundwater and surface water management can underline the state government's serious intent. An expansion of the formal credit facilities can also reduce the dependence of the farmers on rapacious money-lenders, as can efforts to ensure that the routine subsidies are not misappropriated by the richer farmers.

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