In the recently concluded Rajya Sabha elections from Gujarat, Ahmed Patel’s grand victory against difficult odds had all the ingredients—intrigue, deceit, allurement, persuasion, coerciveness, suspense, strategy and much more—that make politics to be such a riveting and compelling game. In fact, the Congress president’s political secretary needs to be congratulated for the fact that at no stage during this high-voltage contest did he lose his nerve and exhibit any signs of anxiety.
His supreme confidence in his own abilities and methods was reflected in the calm and clinical way in which he got the better of BJP president Amit Shah in the gripping fight. What made matters even more noteworthy was the singular feature that the triumph over a fellow Gujarati was achieved in Gandhinagar, the capital of the state that has continuously voted for the BJP since 1995.
What was remarkable about the win is that it showcased meticulous planning and comprehension of the political system as well as demonstrated that a Rajya Sabha contest, if it comes to the wire, can any day be more thrilling than a Lok Sabha fight. Normally speaking, political parties avoid confronting each other in a Rajya Sabha election and settle in for a unanimous decision by fielding as many nominees as there are vacancies. However, in this instance, the BJP became over-ambitious and believed that it could wrest the seat, which should have gone to the Congress, given its numbers in the 182-member House.
Had it been somebody other than Ahmed Patel, the BJP could have easily managed the arithmetic, but the Congress strongman decided to dig in his heels and face the combined onslaught of both Shah and Narendra Modi to emerge with flying colours. The confrontation received a build up from various television channels, which continuously ran the story for several days, adding to the drama; leading lights of both parties trooped in and out of the Election Commission to support their case, following questions being raised over the validity of two votes cast by two Congress MLAs.
What contributed to the Congress win was both experience and understanding of issues on the part of its leaders, while the BJP’s argument was based on the assumption that it was the returning officer alone who could have the final say in the matter. Another aspect of this particular poll was that the Congress, if it joins hands to face its opponents collectively can be a force to reckon with, something which Shah must have subsequently realised. The second lesson for everyone is that winning a Rajya Sabha poll like the one in Gujarat was far more difficult than winning a Lok Sabha contest. This is because the electorate in a Rajya Sabha stand-off comprises seasoned politicians, who have all come up to this level after scoring a positive verdict from the general people.
Many political analysts have likened the Gujarat elections to the stunning victory of Indira Gandhi in the Chikmagalur Lok Sabha byelection in 1978, which marked the return of the Congress on the national stage. The parallel is fallacious, simply because there is no leader of Indira Gandhi’s stature in the grand old party and Ahmed Patel’s re-election does not, in any way, reflect the changing political reality at the grass roots level. Overall, Modi continues to be the tallest mass leader. The win, at best, has raised the diminishing morale of the Congress workers, and thus, has prevented what could have been yet another major embarrassment for Sonia Gandhi. She certainly would have been targeted had the Congress lost this seat.
The Gujarat outcome is definitely not an indicator of which way the Assembly polls would swing later this year. The Congress has to put its house in order, and concurrently project someone as its potential torch-bearer in the state. Patel is a seasoned player, but the mantle has to pass on to someone who is both younger and could serve the party well over a considerable period of time. The Congress has to look forward and ensure that its strategy and selection of candidates for the polls are in sync with reality, and not based on the whims and fancies of individual leaders, who in the past have spoilt the chances of victory in several states by influencing ticket distribution decisions.
The senior leadership of the Congress should henceforth concentrate on the party’s 2019 Parliamentary poll blue-print and hand over the state polls to younger functionaries wanting to make their mark. Nothing grows under a banyan tree and this is equally applicable in politics where younger leaders have to carve out their own space. The issue is not of young and old, but in every political party at some time there has to be a generational change.
Ahmed Patel’s spectacular victory should motivate the workers and their representatives to do bigger things. Its current success should not hamper or limit the party high command in putting all its eggs in one basket. Patel and his contemporaries have had eventful innings, and at best, can be mentors. Amit Shah is merely 52 and is already a cult figure in national politics. Just as Gavaskar and Kapil Dev can no longer win matches for India, the Congress has to find its own Virat Kohlis and Ashwins. Between us.