If there were an award for the most hotly contested election in 2017, then that would surely go to the just concluded Gujarat Rajya Sabha polls. Ahmed Patel has finally won his seat by a whisker of a margin. The BJP wanted him to lose this election badly and used all the tricks to get the desired result.
Patel could win his seat only after the Election Commission disqualified the votes of two lawmakers who showed their votes to people outside.
A complete sweep in these polls for the BJP would have meant that Sonia Gandhi no longer commands and controls her party. The defeat of her nominee, Ahmed Patel, would also have signaled the burial of the Grand Old Party or the Congress.
After Ahmad Patel won his seat, Sonia Gandhi thanked God. Read here.
Before we move further on this subject, let us understand the background of these elections.
There are three seats for which the Gujarat Rajya Sabha polls were held yesterday.
Since the Bhartiya Janata Party controls more than 120 seats in Gujarat, this party won 2 of those three seats.
The real drama was about the third seat for which Congress had fielded Ahmed Patel as its candidate. This party hoped that its 44 lawmakers will elect him to the Rajya Sabha.
But the wily Modi- Shah duo was keen to see that Patel loses these elections and there is a reason to it.
Ahmed Patel is the political adviser to Sonia Gandhi and is very influential in the Congress party. You can say that Patel holds the real political lever in this party which has ruled India more than 60 years. No doubt, the entire country was watching this political battle with bated breath and everyone was on tenterhooks regarding the election results.
But what was the Modi-Shah duo up to?
Come to my parlor
During the run up to these Gujarat Rajya Sabha polls, the BJP was busy weakening the state unit of the Congress. An old Congress party member, Shankar Singh Vaghela recently left the party and declared his support to a non-Congress and non-BJP candidate.
Six MLAs also left the Congress and declared their support to another candidate for the third seat of Rajya Sabha. These legislators are the loyal supporters of Vaghela.
Interestingly, the BJP had also declared its support to the non-Congress and non-BJP candidate for the third seat in these Gujarat Rajya Sabha polls.
What does this all mean? This means that Patel was losing the critical support of those six legislators and risked losing this election!
Many political observers say that these six lawmakers were induced by the BJP to leave their party.
Would they be rewarded for their desertion by the Bhartiya Janata Party? Only time will tell.
But why is Ahmed Patel so special for Sonia Gandhi and the BJP?
And Rahul Gandhi, also?
Ahmed Patel- the Man Friday
Patel is a relatively low profile politician. He does not appear in the media and is not seen giving interviews to the media.
Many people have not seen or heard him speak on TV for many years.
But this does not mean that Ahmed Patel is a small man. In fact, Patel is the bridge that connects Sonia Gandhi with not just the Congress but many other political parties.
Ahmed Patel is not just the political advisor to Sonia Gandhi, he, in fact, is one of the top leaders of the Congress. Had he lost the Rajya Sabha election, the rest of the Congress party would have lost faith in Sonia Gandhi’s leadership.
Over a period, Patel has helped Sonia stitch several alliances with many political parties across the country. Ahmed Patel has a sharp political mind and knows several political leaders personally. Thanks to his political networking, Congress was able to make its government twice- once in 2004 and the next time in 2009.
When the Congress party was in power, Ahmed Patel was the man to go to. Many aspiring ministers believed that he had the power to persuade the Prime Minister to make critical appointments in the Cabinet.
In Gujarat, his home state, Patel has a tremendous influence among the rank and file of the Congress party. Curiously, he has never contested a direct election to the Lok Sabha from his state.
No wonder Mrs. Gandhi wanted him to win so badly in the recently Gujarat Rajya Sabha polls.
Congress Mukt Bharat
When Narendra Modi was campaigning in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, he pledged to make India free from the influence of Congress. According to him, the root cause of all the ills facing the country is this party that was founded by an Englishman in the 19th century.
We all know that the BJP led by Modi did exceedingly well in those elections and later on made its own government. Since 2014, the party has defeated its principal enemy, the Congress in most of the state elections.
Today, there are only three states where the Congress is in power- Punjab, Himachal Pradesh, and Karnataka. Many political pundits expect that this party will lose in Himachal Pradesh and Karnataka in the next elections.
Only a week ago, the Bhartiya Janata Party won the post of the Vice President of India. Just a fortnight back, this party had also bagged the post of the President of India. These two posts were earlier held by ex- Congress men.
Winning all the three Rajya Sabha seats from Gujarat was the next thing on BJP’s agenda. This would have sent a strong signal to the country about the weakening hold of Sonia Gandhi over her party. The BJP also hoped that many lawmakers would leave the Congress in Gujarat and this would further weaken the latter.
The BJP, under the leadership of Modi and Shah, has been very successful in displacing the Congress from many constitutional posts. Presently, both the houses of Parliament are run by BJP members. As we have read earlier, the President and the Vice- President of the country are ex- BJP members.
Challenge for Congress
This party would do well to realize that its rank and file does not respect its top leadership anymore.
For example, in Goa, some of its lawmakers went over to the BJP even though the Congress had got a majority in the state elections. The Bihar MLAs do not respect the leadership of Rahul Gandhi. Thanks to his lazy and unimaginative approach, Nitish Kumar left the JDU- RJD- Congress alliance and went over to the BJP.
In Punjab, the party won the state assembly elections but that was largely the result of the hard work of Captain Amarinder Singh.
Even in Gujarat, many MLAs of the Congress thought that it was better to walk out of the party than be led by Rahul Gandhi. The case of Shankar Singh Vaghela is a shining example of the ineptitude of the top leadership of Congress.
This situation is also acknowledged by many senior Congress leaders. For example, Jairam Ramesh has recently said that the party leadership must reflect on its weakness. He said in an interview that the party must think afresh and have new lines of thought. Ramesh also said that the Congress must learn from Modi and Shah, who think differently and of course act differently too.
But thinking and acting differently is not enough for the dying Congress. Its top leadership has simply lost touch with the common people and the workers of the party. For example, while the state was facing floods, its MLAs were busy enjoying in a luxurious resort in Bengaluru.
In Delhi, the top leadership did not bother to meet the voters even after two electoral losses in the state assembly elections. Not surprisingly, the Congress lost heavily in the Municipal elections of the country’s capital.
Today, after the win of Ahmed Patel in the Gujarat Rajya Sabha polls, it seems that the party is good at just one thing- managing its legislators.
Lesson for BJP after Gujarat Rajya Sabha polls
A loss for Ahmed Patel would have been good news for the BJP. But his loss should send out some signals to this party which has been winning non- stop.
One, the party and its leadership should not stop connecting with people.
Two, Amit Shah should not take the loss of the third Gujarat Rajya Sabha seat personally. In one of his interviews, Ahmed Patel said that Shah had taken up this issue personally. If this is true then Shah should concentrate on building the BJP rather than destroying his rival party.
Three, BJP must focus on winning Gujarat once again and that too by a handsome margin. It is entirely possible that after his win, Ahmed Patel would win the trust of a large section of the Gujarat Congress MLAs leading to some significant gains in the state elections.
The BJP must also admit that the win of Ahmed Patel might encourage the near dead Congress to do well in other elections like Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh etc. If this happens, then we might see a revival of Congress of sorts. It is a long shot but probable.
Does Rahul Gandhi like Ahmed Patel?
This is one question that is bugging my mind for long.
Yesterday, Rahul Gandhi did not make it to the Congress Working Committee meeting because he was down with ‘fever’. But was that really the right reason?
That meeting was convened to discuss the crucial Gujarat Rajya Sabha polls.
Even if he was unwell, Rahul could have made it to the meeting to add support to Patel. But since he did not, Rahul has sent two signals to political commentators.
One is that he does not care about Ahmed Patel. This means that the Gujarat Congress will lose badly in the state elections because of his indifference to Patel.
The second signal is that Rahul Gandhi is hardly interested in running the affairs of his party.
If the second assumption is correct, then it is the time that the Congress started looking out for a strong and willing face as its next leader.
Ahmed Patel is no doubt a shrewd politician. He has managed to snag a win from the jaws of defeat. However, the reputation of Sonia Gandhi is in serious doubt after the Gujarat Rajya Sabha elections. She staked her political career to ensure that her political advisor won the third seat and emerged a winner. For the BJP, the Patel win is not even a loss. However, the party must ensure that it wins the Gujarat assembly elections with a handsome margin to stay ahead in the political game. It cannot choose to dismount the tiger that it has been riding for the last three years.