The Hand Shakes Things Up

Ahmed Pa­tel’s Ra­jya Sabha vic­tory will — one hopes — change equa­tions within the Congress

The Economic Times - - The Edit Page - Neerja Chowd­hury

Never in re­cent times has an elec­tion to the Ra­jya Sabha seen so much drama and po­lit­i­cal par­ties in a state of con­vul­sion as this week’s re-elec­tion of Ahmed Pa­tel, po­lit­i­cal sec­re­tary to Congress pres­i­dent So­nia Gandhi, to the Ra­jya Sabha. The rea­son for such ex­cite­ment was that it was made into a pres­tige is­sue by both the BJP and the Congress.

In nor­mal due course, the seat from Gu­jarat, held by the Congress, should have gone to Pa­tel, given that till three weeks ago, the party was com­fort­ably placed with 57 MLAs. When vot­ing took on Wed­nes­day, it was left with 42 MLAs, 15 hav­ing jumped ship, not a very happy omen for the Grand Old Party.

Pa­tel has to thank JD(U) leader Sharad Yadav for en­sur­ing him the sup­port of the party’s lone MLA, de­spite Ni­tish Ku­mar’s re­cent re­turn to the NDA fold. That shows that Ku­mar’s writ runs in Bi­har, but not in other states. The other Sharad, Pawar, of the Na­tion­al­ist Congress Party (NCP), in his inim­itable style, man­aged to strike the ‘mid­dle path’, with one MLA vot­ing for the BJP and the other for Pa­tel.

It was a do-or-die bat­tle for Pa­tel. A de­feat meant walk­ing into the sunset for a man who was the UPA’s mover and shaker for ten years and ran the Congress sys­tem for So­nia Gandhi. It would have led to the col­lapse of an al­ready de­mor­alised Congress, par­tic­u­larly in assem­bly poll-go­ing Gu­jarat later this year and be­yond.

BJP pres­i­dent Amit Shah walk­ing into the Ra­jya Sabha and Pa­tel walk­ing out would have had its own mes­sage: an un­stop­pable BJP on the as­cent and the sun set­ting on the Congress em­pire. This would have has­tened the rush of fence-sit­ters into the BJP all over the coun­try.

Pa­tel scraped through, thanks only to the dis­qual­i­fi­ca­tion of two Congress MLAs by the Elec­tion Com­mis­sion (EC). The Congress demon­strated its old deft touch in rais­ing a pro­ce­dural is­sue, which could not be ig­nored by the EC.

Cel­e­bra­tions

It is un­der­stand­able for the Congress want­ing to cel­e­brate, given that this is the first piece of good news the party has had in three years apart from the Pun­jab assem­bly polls vic­tory in March. And yet, it is also symp­to­matic of the Congress’ cur­rent cri­sis — of clutch­ing at straws with­out ad­dress­ing the core is­sues.

The party still has to squarely face the rea­sons for its suc­ces­sive de­feats, and why it hasn’t put cor­rec­tives in place. Se­nior Con­gress­man Jairam Ramesh’s cri­tique a day be­fore the poll was dead on: the Congress is fac­ing ‘ex­is­ten­tial­ist’, as op­posed to ’elec­toral’ crises — even as the tim­ing of his in­ter­view was cu­ri­ous. But the points Ramesh raised war­rant brain­storm­ing, in­stead of the usual at­tempt by other Con­gress­men to push the is­sue un­der the car­pet, es­pe­cially now af­ter Pa­tel’s win.

The Gu­jarat Ra­jya Sabha poll has demon­strated that se­nior Con­gress­men and state satraps can fight, and even win, bat­tles — when they set their minds to it, par­tic­u­larly if pushed to the wall — be it Ahmed Pa­tel, Amarinder Singh, Sid­dhara­ma­iah, or BS Hooda.

Power Bal­ance

The Pa­tel vic­tory will change the power bal­ance in the Congress, with the old guard re­assert­ing its author­ity. The em­pire can be ex­pected to strike back. Will it lead to the con­tin­u­a­tion of So­nia Gandhi as the party chief till 2019, in­stead of Rahul Gandhi tak­ing over in Oc­to­ber? Whether or not he takes over as party pres­i­dent, it will be that much more dif­fi­cult for Rahul now to side­line Pa­tel — and the sys­tem he rep­re­sents.

The Pa­tel vic­tory also shows that the Congress still re­tains (at least the rem­nants of) the killer in­stinct for which it was once known. And that it has not com­pletely lost its old touch, for which it was known as the party of ‘Raj kaaj’, to man­age things even in ad­verse sit­u­a­tions.

It would be pre­ma­ture to con­clude that this re­sult could make a dif­fer­ence to the out­come of the forth­com­ing assem­bly polls in the state in De­cem­ber. But it can give new heart to Congress work­ers, par­tic­u­larly in Gu­jarat.

While it is true that Ra­jya Sabha elec­tions are about MLAs vot­ing, and need not re­flect sen­ti­ments on the ground, it is a fact that in the last ten years, the Congress has shown a lack of will to pluck the low-hang­ing fruit called Gu­jarat. Pa­tel’s vic­tory may trig­ger a will to fight and win.

Will it dent the in­fal­li­ble im­age that BJP pres­i­dent Amit Shah has come to ac­quire, since the party and the man put ev­ery­thing in win­ning this con­test? His ‘de­feat’ may make some peo­ple in the BJP happy. But Shah, given his track record, has shown a ten­dency to bounce back with greater vigour af­ter set­backs, some­thing that was ev­i­dent in the way he set about win­ning elec­tions af­ter the BJP’s Bi­har de­feat.

‘Op­er­a­tion Ra­jya Sabha’ will go on to strengthen Ahmed Pa­tel, and the Congress’ old guard. To that ex­tent it will con­tain Rahul Gandhi. But the party’s turn­around will take a lot more than a Ra­jya Sabha vic­tory, no mat­ter how high pro­file the can­di­date and how bit­terly it was fought — and won.

Madam, can you now tell him not to eavesdrop?

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