Rahul Gandhi scored "zero in his opening innings" was how Goa Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar reacted to the comfortable lead of the BJP in Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh assembly election results on Monday.
The BJP is heading for a record sixth straight victory in Gujarat assembly polls, and is set to evict the Congress in Himachal Pradesh, tightening the party's grip over the country's politics with general elections only 18 months away.
Parrikar said the results in the two states indicated that the saffron party was going to win the 2019 Lok Sabha polls.
"Opening innings zero," he commented when asked about Gandhi's performance in the elections in Gujarat where the newly-appointed Congress chief campaigned extensively, and Himachal Pradesh, where the party was set to lose power.
The 47-year-old Amethi MP took over as Congress president last week.
"The assembly election results, which are in favour of the BJP, are also an indication of the outcome of the 2019 Lok Sabha elections and formation of the next government at the Centre," Parrikar said.
"We will ensure the BJP also wins handsomely in Karnataka (where the assembly polls are due in 2018)," he said.
In another dig at the Gandhi scion, the former defence minister said Gandhi's popularity was less than the party (Congress), whereas Modi's popularity was larger than the BJP.
"Prime Minister (Narendra Modi) has his magic. The prime minister is pushing the party ahead. He is one leader who has higher popularity than the party," Parrikar said when asked whether the PM's campaign helped the BJP retain power in Gujarat.
"Reverse is the case with Rahul Gandhi. His popularity is lower than his party," he said.
The Goa chief minister admitted that there was intense speculation about the poll outcome in Gujarat, but the results have indicated that there was a "connect between the prime minister and Gujaratis".
In Gujarat, he said, all anti-BJP forces, including Patidar quota stir spearhead Hardik Patel, had come together to defame the saffron outfit and the PM.
"Despite facing anti-incumbency, the BJP won in Gujarat," Parrikar said, adding at some places there was an attempt to defame the BJP, which was countered by the party through a systematic campaign.
Parrikar also admitted that there was some erosion in the BJP vote share in the Saurashtra region.
"There is bound to have some anti-incumbency after 22 years of (the BJP) rule," he reasoned.
The senior BJP leader said the party has managed to increase its vote share by 1 per cent in Gujarat, while the Congress snatched 4-5 per cent vote pie from other political parties.
Parrikar added that there was no adverse impact of the Goods and Services Tax (GST) implementation on the BJP's vote share in Gujarat.