With Ahmed Patel's win, Cong wins the prestige battle. But will it help revive the party?
The dramatic fashion in which senior Congress leader Ahmed Patel won the Rajya Sabha seat has set the ball rolling for the upcoming assembly elections in Gujarat.
Patel's win has come as a major setback for the BJP and its president Amit Shah. Shah was outsmarted by Patel in the battle of the two high profile backroom strategists.
In fact, it is the BJP leadership that should take the blame for turning an ordinary Rajya Sabha election into a prestige battle and catapulting Patel from a high profile manager to a leader. Known widely for his skills as a 'backroom strategist', 'fund raiser', 'spin doctor' and 'firefighter', Patel was never considered a mass leader. In fact, he has often been accused of not helping the party dethrone BJP in his home state for last 22 years.
But all of that seems to have changed overnight.
A faulty quest
Even BJP's efforts to poach Congress MLAs by using all the guile and tactics at its disposal right till the eve of the elections was proof of how the saffron party was not leaving any stone unturned to ensure Patel didn't make it to the upper house. However, for the BJP and its strategists, it wasn't as much about Patel as it was about Congress President Sonia Gandhi.
Ever since Sonia took charge of the Congress, Patel has followed her like a shadow and his words were considered that of the Congress president herself. During the 10 years of UPA rule, Patel was the most powerful man in India and no decision was taken without his consent. From appointing bureaucrats to state unit leaders, Patel was literally the gate-keeper to the Congress President who consulted him on all matters.
It was for this reason that the BJP invested so much energy in the battle that was primarily targeted to embarrass the Congress president. Shah also believes Patel to be the brains behind all the legal troubles he faced during the previous UPA regime and was seeking revenge. However, tables were turned after the Election Commission of India disqualified two votes resulting in Patel's victory.
Blinded by their quest to see Sonia lose this battle of prestige, BJP had turned this into a high profile political battle which saw several Union ministers rushing to EC office not once, but thrice to counter the Congress' argument. In the end, it was the BJP that not only lost the Rajya Sabha election, but also the battle of perception which could be detrimental to their poll prospects in Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Shah's home state.
Even if Patel had won, it would have had no impact on the BJP's political fortunes. But by turning this contest into a prestige battle, the ruling party's image has taken a major beating. Even the amount of the money that the two parties splurged on a single Rajya Sabha seat speaks volumes about how this ordinary contest had turned into a war.
Congress had earlier accused the BJP of bribing its legislators with crores of rupees to switch loyalties. Similarly, Congress flew its flock to Bengaluru and later to another luxurious resort to stop poaching of its legislators must have cost the party a fortune. The way the saffron party hounded Karnataka minister D Shivakumar, who gave shelter to Gujarat MLAs, reflected how desperate the party was to see Patel lose.
A ray of hope?
As far as the Congress is concerned, which has been celebrating ever since the results were announced, this victory is anything but convincing. In fact, in the run up to the RS elections, the party's tally came down from 57 to 43 which speaks volumes about the cohesiveness of the state unit that is expected to taken on the might of the BJP in the upcoming state elections
However, Congress leaders are adamant on how Patel's victory has given hope to party's state unit that has been in complete disarray for the last many years. Congress leaders in Gujarat are ecstatic that they have managed to burst the BJP's bubble of invincibility and turned the state assembly elections into a two-cornered contest.
Before Patel's victory, the Gujarat election was expected to be a one-sided contest but the BJP's strategy of putting its dirty tricks department to work has given Congress a hope for revival. The aftermath of Tuesday's elections is being felt by the state BJP leadership that accepts how Patel's win has come as a huge morale boost for the grand old party.
“This certainly is a major morale boost for Congress and now their 43 MLAs can proudly go back to their constituencies with their heads held high. We are expecting some support in their favour but elections are still four months away,” said senior Gujarat BJP leader Yamal Vyas.
As expected, Vyas doesn't believe that it would have any impact on Congress' prospects in the assembly elections. Accusing the grand old party of not utilising such opportunities to its advantage in the past, Vyas claimed that the factionalism within the Congress' state unit is to be blamed for its sorry state.
“They have proved time and again on how not to use such opportunities to their advantage. In fact, this loss is a blessing in disguise for the BJP since it will make us work even harder for the upcoming assembly elections. There was an element of overconfidence in our workers but this changes everything. Our cadres were getting complacent thinking we will win 150 seats and this is a perfect wake up call for them,” Vyas said.
Dismissing possibilities of the Congress giving even a tough fight to BJP, Vyas took pot shots at Patel and said that if he were so powerful, why had the Congress been on the losing side for the last 22 years? Vyas said, “His victory can only boost the morale of Congress workers but is certainly not enough to win them elections.”
Meanwhile, Congress leader Arjun Modhwadia is elated with the results and confident of defeating BJP in the upcoming polls. “The people of Gujarat are well aware how the BJP played every dirty trick to defeat Patel. But, none of it worked. Eventually, it was the win of imandar (honest) over beimaan (corrupt) and the common man knows how valiantly we fought even when the odds were against us. From PMO to CMO to the state police machinery, everyone was conspiring against us and yet we emerged victorious. Our cadres are rejuvenated and we will carry this momentum to the assembly elections,” he said.
Dismissing rumours of any factionalism, Modhwadia said that those who were scheming against the party stand exposed and have been shown the door. “At present, those who really believe in Congress and its ideology stand together and this victory further strengthens our belief that BJP is not invincible if we fight hard,” concluded Modhwadia.