POLITICS

Ahmed Patel Wins Rajya Sabha, Congress Loses An Opportunity For A Churning

Hardly a victory.

09/08/2017 8:16 AM IST | Updated 09/08/2017 8:19 AM IST
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Congress Rajya Sabha MP Ahmed Patel talking to media person on the issue of attacks on Dalits in Gujarat's Una.

In the wee hours of Wednesday, 9 August 2017, Ahmed Patel heaved a sigh of relief. He survived an audacious attempt by Amit Shah to deny him his Rajya Sabha re-election. But is it really a victory if a party with 57 MLAs struggles to get 44 votes in a Rajya Sabha poll?

Had it not been for a technical stupidity by two Congress MLAs to show their voting preferences to the BJP in the polling room, Patel would have lost. Had it not been for the presence of mind of Congress MLA Shaktisinh Gohil in raising objections about the two Congress rebels, Patel was sure to have lost.

To snatch victory from the jaws of defeat is no doubt fascinating, but this was hardly a victory. Even in his victory Patel is a leader diminished. Shah and the BJP machine he commands managed to give Sonia Gandhi's right hand man sleepless nights.

Had the Congress worked this hard, and made every election a matter of prestige, it would not have been a decaying force.

Had the Congress worked this hard, and made every election a matter of prestige, it would not have been a decaying force. Had the Congress similarly fought tooth and nail the BJP's dirty tricks, it would at least have formed governments in Goa, Manipur and saved its government in Arunachal Pradesh.

Patel, political secretary to president of the Congress party, has been hailed as a political genius, a master strategist. The state of the Congress party across India over the last few years ought to have made us question those claims. Alas, his dramatic and last minute saving of his Rajya Sabha seat will make the Congress treat him like a hero.

PTI
New Delhi: Union ministers Ravishanker Prasad, Piyush Goyal, Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi and other BJP leaders coming out of the Election Commission of India, in New Delhi on Tuesday. A BJP delegation comprising of many central ministers met the election commission over RS polls in Gujarat. PTI Photo by Kamal Kishore (PTI8_8_2017_000141B)

Where was Patel's political genius when the UPA-2 government was sliding downhill? Where was his Chanakyan strategy making when Shankersinh Vaghela left the party recently?

What, indeed, has Patel achieved in his home state for the Congress party? At a time when the BJP has faced unprecedented problems in Gujarat — from the Patel agitation to the Dalit uprising to traders' strikes over GST — why has the alleged master strategist not been able to exploit those opportunities? How has the master strategist managed to lose important leaders in an election year when popular agitations against the BJP should have brought more leaders to its fold?

Where was Patel's political genius when the UPA-2 government was sliding downhill? Where was his Chanakyan strategy making when Shankersinh Vaghela left the party recently?

These questions will not be asked now that Patel has managed to retain his Rajya Sabha seat.

If anything, Patel's retention of his seat will merely lull the Congress into a false confidence that it can indeed fight the Mod-Shah juggernaut. No, it can't fight it, because there are structural problems with the Congress party at the top.

The problem was highlighted just two days ago by Jairam Ramesh, who spoke what most Congress members can see but refuse to admit.

"The sultanate has gone, but we behave as if we are sultans still. We have to completely redo the way of thinking, the way of acting, the way of projecting, the way of communicating. I think there is a lot of goodwill for the Congress, a lot of support for the Congress but people want to see a new Congress. They don't want to see old mantras, old slogans. We must recognise this is a big challenge. Huge challenge for us," Ramesh told the Press Trust of India.

Patel symbolizes the problem Ramesh underlines. He represents the old mantra, the old way of thinking, of merely connecting the dots and putting together weak unstable coalitions.

PTI
New Delhi: Congress leaders P Chidambaram, Ashok Gehlot, Ghulam Nabi Azad, Mukul Wasnik and Anand Sharma coming out of the Election Commission of India, in New Delhi on Tuesday. A delegation of senior Congress leaders met the election commission over RS polls in Gujarat. PTI Photo by Kamal Kishore (PTI8_8_2017_000150B)

Patel symbolizes the problem Ramesh underlines. He represents the old mantra, the old way of thinking, of merely connecting the dots and putting together weak unstable coalitions. His re-election into the upper house of the Parliament doesn't change that, it only reinforces it.

The fault isn't his alone, but as the all-powerful political secretary of the Congress party, he epitomizes the Congress party run by the Rajya Sabha types, leaders who do not contest and win elections, nor do they deliver election victories. The unelected and unelectable darbaris of the Congress party must take responsibility of the party's secular decline and bow out. Nay, they are back in the Rajya Sabha.

Under Patel's watch, the Congress party in Gujarat has sat on a high vote-share but unable to displace the BJP since 1995. Instead, a weak, comatose Congress has only seen the BJP's Gujarat CM become India's PM. Nor has the alleged master strategist been able to return the Congress to power in any major state.

Patel's re-election may have dented Shah's plans to humiliate him. But to the extent that it lulls the Congress into false confidence that it can take on the BJP, it is only good news for prime minister Narendra Modi. The prime minister can't hope for a duller opposition, one who stakes all its prestige in a Rajya Sabha election, winning a battle but losing the war.

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