Gujarat’s Patel and its Shah!

The Gujarat Rajya Sabha elections demonstrated the actual state of Indian politics – where the BJP will stoop to any level to bulldoze values and institutions of democracy facilitated by an extremely inept and inefficient Congress – while all other possible contenders to power are either bullied or cajoled into hapless silence as onlookers to this bizarre drama.

As many people are celebrating Ahmed Patel’s close-call re-election with obvious relief, I see the moment as a rather bad defeat for Congress and a victory for the BJP. In the first place people seem to be forgetting that this was an election that the Congress should have won comfortably on its own. The warning bells should have rung when the first signs of rebellion happened as 8 Congress MLAs cross voted in the Presidential elections. Shankersinh Vaghela quitting the Congress immediately thereafter should have upped the antennae further about an impending strike against Congress.

It looks like the Congress did not heed to the warning signs and was lax in responding. They allowed their legislators to be poached at this crucial moment instead of strategizing on holding on to them. They should have seen the writing on the wall – given that they introduced poaching into Indian politics and Shankersinh Vagela himself was a partner in Congress poaching around two decades back. Rumour has it that it was no loyalty to Vaghela that got the Congress MLAs to quit their seats in the assembly – but it was hard cash and one Rajya Sabha seat in return for Ahmed Patel’s necl!

By the time the Congress got its act together it was too late – it looked like they would be dependent on allies for Ahmed Patel to get past the magic figure of 45. So, Congress resorted to one of the oldest tricks in Indian politics – it herded its legislators away from the centre of action. But unfortunately for the Congress, the timing was bad – Gujarat was facing one of the worst natural calamities in over a decade and the BJP got busy capitalizing on the Congress absence. So what little sand was left after BJP’s money stole from the Congress seemed to be in the danger of being washed away by the floods.

Then the BJP stooped lower than what the Congress could imagine. They unleashed the Income Tax department in one hand into the resort where the Congress legislators were hoarded. While on the other they started intimidating the few non Congress and non BJP MLAs. Gossip has it that at least one NCP MLA was bullied into voting against Patel with the threat of accelerating prosecution against him in the several cases against him.

The election day arrived tense with rumors abound that even among the MLAs who were still with the Congress – there were bound to be dissenting votes. As the votes were cast – and people like Vaghela making announcements that he had voted against Patel as he won’t vote for a loser – seemed to be a signal as to which way the electoral wind was blowing. For a moment everyone was under the impression that Amit Shah had staged another coup – regardless of the means that was used. Fortunately for the Congress the voting irregularity happened – reducing the number of votes that Patel needed to 44 – and he got that after a gut wrenching battle at the election commission which went on late night. All of that is already in the popular lore and I would not want to revisit the incidents.

But the point is, regardless of the BJP sleaze-play, the Congress won on a technicality and not on numbers. Congress and its supporters went to town declaring that this was a victory for democracy and truth – as Ahmed Patel’s tweet pointed – “satyameva jayate” – lapsing back into complacency without scrutinizing or introspecting on what went wrong. The non-Congress/BJP political parties meanwhile are completely at a loss like the owner of a china shop through which a bull rampaged – with ramifications of what happened in the Gujarat assembly threatening the already fragile cohesiveness of the national unity of both NCP and JD(U).

Meanwhile what many read as a defeat for the BJP might actually be a victory on many fronts – the reason why the BJP is unfazed. Let me try and list them.

Firstly – in light of the upcoming Gujarat assembly elections later this year – the Congress has been exposed as a divided house that isn’t able to manage its own internal affairs. It will put a lot of brakes on the Congress ability to cash in on the widespread discontent with the state and central governments and anti-incumbency.

Second – the Congress alliance partners are in disarray and it is very unsure whether the existing alliance partners of the Congress will continue with the alliance

Third – the establishment of the credibility of Achal Kumar Joti as the Chief Election Commissioner. This is perhaps the most important take away for the Central government rather than the BJP itself and needs some detailed thoughts. The appointment of Mr. Joti, a staunch Modi loyalist and a 1975 Modi loyalist as one of the election commissioners in May 2015 and the chief election commissioner in July 2017 has been viewed with suspicion from many quarters, especially in the light of accusations of malfunctioning of the EVMs in favour of the BJP. This Gujarat Rajya Sabha case came up when the EC’s credibility itself is at a low. The EC decision in Congress favour could and would be used as an anticipatory bail against potential accusations of unfairness against the EC. The RSS spokesperson in the NDTV studio clearly hinted this. As the midnight announcement of the EC decision came through – he remained unfazed and turned to the anchor and emphatically said – this decision disproves all accusations that the Modi government is trying to subvert institutions of democracy!

Beyond all of this – the Gujarat election has reinforced how deeply the BJP has entrenched itself into the psyche of the media and a section of polity as being synonymous with the idea of India – in many ways reinventing the old coinage of Indira is India and India is Indira in favour of Modi. As the legislators walked out of the assembly, a young television reporter asked the JD(U) MLA, Vasava Chhotubhai Amarsinh whom he had voted for. The legislator responded that he had voted for the nation. The reporter immediately turned to the camera and announced that Vasava had voted BJP!

The ability of the RSS to convert adversity into victory is astonishing. As RSS has shifted focus from BJP misdeeds in the run up to Gujarat Rajya Sabha elections and the failure of its conspiracy to subvert democracy and has claimed credit for the "fairness" of the election commission decision to Modi's commitment to institutions of democracy and Amit Shah has already started the war cry, Congress seems satisfied to rest on having won a battle by default and seemingly losing sight of the larger war at hand!

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