It's a defeat. It can not be called anything else. It was an impressive fight by Rahul Gandhi, but his party fell short of a victory. So close, yet so far is not the way Indian political narratives are written.
The discontent and fatigue with the BJP was palpable in Gujarat. But the Congress failed to turn it into enough votes, despite a temple run by its young president. These are three possible reasons why it failed.
First, Assembly elections are about choosing a state government and Chief Minister. But this one turned into a Rahul Gandhi versus Narendra Modi battle and the Congress was keen on projecting Rahul as the challenger for 2019.
This was the first mistake and took the narrative away from Gujarat. That party's local narrative was dominated by Hardik Patel, Alpesh Thakor and Jignesh Mewani and hence turned the local debate into one of caste issues and identities.
The need, perhaps, was for a strong local leader who could have been construed as a chief ministerial possibility. This may have brought the local narrative around governance of Gujarat under former Chief Minister Anandiben Patel and her successor Vijay Rupani. This was an Achilles heel for the BJP.
But because it was a Rahul Gandhi versus Narendra Modi narrative, most of the flak for the BJP was negated by the Narendra Modi rhetoric and persona. He turned the debate away from vikas to emotive issues.
The second mistake was to believe that conflicting caste vote bases can be stitched together in election season. The fact is Patidars on the one side and OBC consolidation behind a Kshatriya leader on the other have been two poles of Gujarat over the last three decades.
By going with Hardik Patel and Alpesh Thakor the Congress hoped for a caste combination that was in internal conflict. In the end, it wasn't clear who would hold the reigns if the party made it and hence it could not turn into a concrete electoral result. The two have certainly bolstered the Congress performance, but it wasn't enough.
Third, the Congress narrative, both caste and economic discontent, seemed to be seeking a rejection of Narendra Modi, not an endorsement for the Congress or Rahul Gandhi as the solution to the problems of the electorate. For instance, even Hardik, Alpesh and Jignesh began their movements as anti Modi voices and a vote for Congress was just the by product.
This only made the narrative revolve more around Narendra Modi and less around a strong counter narrative, one where he was neither the villain nor hero.
(T M Veeraraghav is a senior journalists and views are personal.)