Ahmedabad: Congress president Rahul Gandhi on Saturday termed his party’s loss in the Gujarat assembly elections a “victory of Congress ideology”, during his first visit after the party secured 77 seats against the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) 99 in the just-concluded polls.

Addressing workers and leaders of the Congress’s state unit at Gujarat University’s convention hall in Ahmedabad, Gandhi said, “I am very thankful to the people of Gujarat and all the workers of the Congress… We have cornered the BJP. They failed to answer our questions and they diverted from the issues. The Congress has exposed the lies of the vikas (development) model and now (Prime Minister Narendra) Modi ji can’t say anything on that. The Gujarat Congress has shown the nation that the ideology of the Congress can never be defeated.”

“Though the Congress lost the election, it is a message of victory… We increased the voter turnout, and this will be helpful in the forthcoming Lok Sabha elections of 2019,” said Bharatsinh Solanki, president of the Congress’s Gujarat unit, adding, “Rahul Gandhi will be Prime Minister in 2019.”

The Congress increased its tally in the state assembly from the 61 seats it won in the 2012 elections. Its gain of 16 seats is identical to the BJP’s drop from 115 in the previous polls.

The Congress president began his visit to Gujarat by offering prayers at the Somnath temple, the venue of a controversy surrounding his religion during campaigning earlier this month, when the ruling party questioned why his name was entered in the register as a “non-Hindu.” The visit was also the first since Gandhi took over as his party’s president from his mother Sonia on 16 December, two days before the counting of votes for the Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh state elections.

Gandhi congratulated the 77 new members of the Gujarat legislative assembly (MLAs) from his party and later spoke to 10 percent of Congress workers who were deemed to have not performed to the mark.

The Congress president also met Dalit rights activist Jignesh Mevani, who won the Vadgam seat that is reserved for Scheduled Castes (SCs) as an independent candidate supported by the opposition party.