By Parth Gupta
The recent Rajya Sabha polls in Gujarat witnessed defections, cross-party voting, and procedural and legal goof-ups. On Wednesday, the Election Commission finally declared Congress veteran Ahmed Patel’s election to the Rajya Sabha. This will be Patel’s fifth term in the Upper House. The other two seats were won by BJP chief Amit Shah and Union Textiles Minister Smriti Irani, but their win was never in doubt.
What made the elections for mere three seats so aggressive was the fact that the seats were contested from the home of the big-guns, PM Narendra Modi and Amit Shah. These elections came just months before the crucial Assembly elections in Gujarat.
BJP’s animosity towards Ahmed Patel
Ahmed Patel’s loss would have been a full-body blow to the Congress Party. It would have added to the ongoing bad run in the Centre, State (barring Punjab Assembly elections) and Presidential elections since 2014.
Patel has been Sonia Gandhi’s political secretary since 2001 and a top strategist for the party. An opportunistic BJP went all out to wreak havoc on the Congress President’s inner circle. Various efforts were made to regulate the probable results on this particular seat. The visits of Union Ministers Arun Jaitley, Ravi Shankar Prasad, MA Naqvi and Piyush Goyal on Tuesday to the Office of Election Commission in Delhi, not once but twice, are a testimony to that.
Last month, Mr Patel was quoted saying, “Amit Shah has a personal grudge against me”. Many believe that Patel played a key role in Amit Shah’s arrest back in 2010 Sohrabuddin encounter case where the latter was also restricted from entering his home state till 2012.
Ruptures in the Congress
Although the Congress was able to evade defeat, Patel’s victory should have been a piece of cake. The fact that the BJP was able to make it go down the wire reflects the malfunctioning leadership of the Congress party. If top party leaders like Ahmed Patel had to struggle to win a seat, Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi may also find it laborious to make it to the Lok Sabha in 2019.
In the run-up to this highly anticipated election, Congress was constantly demoralised. Their campaign was thrown off balance due to income-tax raids on party workers. The party leadership responded to this by shifting their 44 MLAs to a resort in Bengaluru, owned by Karnataka Minister DK Shivakumar. On August 2, the resort too was raided. This was done at a time when many regions in Gujarat were combating floods. The absenteeism of Congress MLAs in this situation sent a negative message which further damaged the campaign.
The great cost of victory
In order to shield this Rajya Sabha seat, the Congress lost more than one-fourth of its MLAs. Out of the 57 Congress MLAs in the Gujarat Assembly, 6 had already resigned. Out of 51, Ahmed Patel was supported only by 42 MLAs, hence losing the support of nine more.
In total, the party has now lost the support of 15 MLAs which will hurt its prospects in the upcoming Assembly elections in Gujarat. The exit of Shankersinh Vaghela, the Opposition Leader in the Assembly and Balwantsinh Rajput, who was the chief whip and BJP’s third candidate has jolted the Congress party, not only in terms of numbers but symbolically as well.
A golden chance for revival
Having said that, this might be a golden chance for Congress’s revival in Gujarat, where it has not won elections in the last 33 years. All the Congress MLAs who could be roped in by the BJP have been identified and the party high command has already eliminated them. This comes as a cleanup within the party. The Patel triumph, despite the high voltage drama, should act as a morale boost for the Congress.
In the upcoming Assembly elections, Congress may be able to give the BJP a run for their money. This is because both the Chief Ministers since 2014, Anandiben Patel and Vijay Rupani have not been able to match their predecessor (Modi). Both of them fell short of expectations while handling the Patidar movement, where lakhs of Patels demanded reservation for their already affluent community. They could neither properly handle dissent from the Dalit community following the flogging of a group of Dalits by members of Gau Raksha Samiti (Cow Protection Committee).
Now that the Rajya Sabha elections are a thing of past, the revival of Congress depends on Ahmed Patel’s strategic abilities; he is the new face of the Congress. However, all the power and force deployed by the BJP shows that Amit Shah will go to any extent in order to achieve his motto of “Congress mukt Bharat” (India without Congress). It is time for party workers on both the sides to pull up their socks because a tough electoral fight lies ahead.
Featured Image Source: VisualHunt
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