rahul gandhi
Rahul Gandhi at a rally in Delhi's Ram Lila Maidan in AprilReuters/Altaf Hussain

If anything, the results of elections to five state assemblies have given the putative united opposition at the national lave a new leader. And that's Rahul Gandhi.

The excitement over the Congress performance and the setback to BJP in its heartland maybe overhyped. However, the results will certainly give a shape, purpose and, more importantly, a leader to the grand alliance.

As per lead position as of late afternoon, Congress is certain to form governments in Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan, while results from more than a score of hard-fought constituencies will determine the final result in Madhya Pradesh.

If Congress forms government in two or three Hindi heartland states, that's a momentous achievement for the party. However, that will not be enough to propel the party into a victory in the Lok Sabha elections in 2019.

In all these BJP-ruled states, the party suffered a bitter anti-incumbency backlash. Beyond that the results don't offer traces of a massive anti-Modi backlash. For the BJP, the loss in its core support base is biting, but the 2019 scenario will be defined by 'Modi versus who' narrative.

To think Congress will pull off a win against Narendra Modi's BJP in 2019 on its own will be a stretch. If Congress had really recorded landslide victories in these Hindi heartland states, of course, the scenario would have been different.

It's significant that both Samajwadi Party (SP) and the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) rushed to offer support to Congress even as Madhya Pradesh results sat on a knife's edge. A quick interpretation of the move can only be that these heavyweights won't be averse to accepting a Congress / Rahul Gandhi leadership in a united opposition front.

Samajwadi Party (SP) President and Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav (L), and Congress Vice-President Rahul Gandhi
Samajwadi Party (SP) President and Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav (L), and Congress Vice-President Rahul Gandhi release a common minimum programme in Lucknow, February 11, 2017.Reuters

Without SP and BSP, the grand alliance is more of a rag tag coalition of wannabes. Apart from these parties, there are no electoral heavyweights in the alliance except for DMK in Tamil Nadu.

N. Chandrababu Naidu has come across as the most vocal grand alliance elder in recent weeks, but his political stock has tanked after rival KCR scored a two-thirds majority in Telangana. Naidu himself is looking down the barrel, even as YSRCP's Jagan Mohan Reddy is confident of sweeping Andhra Pradesh in the next elections in 2019.

If SP and BSP's move today can be interpreted as their tacit acceptance of RG's leadership, that's great news for the grand alliance. That perhaps, is the highlight of today's election results.