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13 August, 2017 11:09:02 AM
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All about strategies

Apart from the mightiness of the battle, it was a contest between two strongmen
Kumkum Chadha
All about strategies

When Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad compared Ahmed Patel’s election to the Quit India movement, he was merely indicating the high stakes involved in the election of that one man who was all powerful in the Congress Party.
Till the emergence of Rahul Gandhi and his young brigade, Ahmed Patel, Congress President Sonia Gandhi’s trusted aide called the shots.
Therefore when Azad referred to a bitterly fought election earlier this week, he not only underlined the importance of Ahmed Patel but also brought to the fore the importance of that one seat in Rajya Sabha, Indian Parliament’s Upper House, held by Patel.
While participating in a special debate to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the Quit India movement on August 9, Azad equated the election related developments of the  Rajya Sabha polls in Gujarat to the events witnessed when the Quit India Movement was launched on this day in 1942.
“I don’t want to mention the incidents of the last night”, he said referring to the election held a day earlier, “It looked like the same night (August 8/9, 1942) because the developments kept us awake till morning,” he said. Azad was referring to the tough contest witnessed during counting of votes in the Rajya Sabha polls which ended after claims and counter claims reached the doors of the Election Commission of India. In the suspense-filled hours that followed till late into the night, the Election Commission declared votes of two rebel Congress MLAs as invalid. It was this decision that helped Patel emerge victorious. Till then it was a touch and go with fears of cross voting rather high and allies saying one thing and doing quite the opposite.

 

“I don’t want to bring politics because today it’s a different occasion. But yesterday’s night and day were the same,” the veteran Congressman said, even while targeting guns at BJP and referring to current political events.

That Patel’s election had overshadowed the significance of August 9, was clear. It could not be any other way given that both the Congress and the BJP had pulled all sops to ensure Patel’s victory or defeat respectively.

It certainly was a prestige election, elevated from the contest of a Rajya Sabha seat to a mighty battle between two strongmen: BJP Chief Amit Shah and Sonia Gandhi’s go to man Ahmed Patel. Given that both are adept at their roles, this was seen as a strategist versus strategist battle in a who could outmaneuver the other rather than a battle between two aspirant MPs.

Till Shah did not make it obvious that he is hell bent on seeing Patel out of Rajya Sabha, it was an ordinary election that Congress had the numbers to win. But the BJP leaders not only camped in Gujarat but also allegedly engineered defections and cross voting with lure of power and money. Such was the danger of MLAs being lured that the Congress MLAs were flown to a resort and in one sense kept out of reach of Shah’s dirty tricks department.

The MLAs, it is learnt, was being offered  both money and position to vote against Patel. Apart from the immediate goal of seeing Patel out, the move, in their calculation, would help hasten the split in the Congress and help BJP reach one point nearer their Congress mukht Bharat, India minus Congress slogan.  It is learnt that the money that has exchanged hands range to anything between a crore to 15 crores per MLA. Add to that an election ticket and that or an MLA is a five-year security: a kind of a gold mine.

With the Congress decimated in most states, the future looks bleak and hence makes little sense to sink with the grand old party. As against this, the way things are today both Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the BJP are on a all-time high and therefore it makes more political sense for Congressmen to jump on the BJP bandwagon and chart a course for themselves. Also, Patel’s defeat had it happened, would puncture whatever little morale the Congress has left and put it at a disadvantage ahead of the Gujarat polls scheduled at the end of the year.

Shah’s vow to oust Patel had more to do with Sonia Gandhi than Patel himself. Defeating Patel would mean an assault on Sonia Gandhi and her leadership.  If Ahmed lost it would mean a question mark on  Sonia’s leadership and  the future of the party she continues to head.

Apart from the mightiness of the battle, it was a contest between two strongmen: both undeclared kings of their respective parties: Amit Shah of the BJP and Ahmed Patel of the Congress. Both draw power from the top leader, Modi and Sonia respectively and both are pastmasters at the game of “managing things” be it winning elections, strategy or the game of maneuvering and playing politics. Therefore Ahmed’s win would be a loss of face for Shah who till now has successfully manipulated things and people to his advantage. Patel winning from Gujarat which the Shah Modi duo consider as their fiefdom would be a challenge to their supremacy; his losing would mean a rout from his home state and question his legitimacy as the strongman of the Congress.

Amit Shah’s hatred for Ahmed Patel and Sonia Gandhi is no secret given that he holds them responsible for his incarceration and subsequent externment out of Gujarat during UPA’s rule at the Centre. Patel’s defeat would be nothing short of humiliation for both Sonia and Patel and Shah was hell bent on inflicting that blow on them.

Shah, it may be recalled, was slapped with a number of cases, particularly one related to the alleged fake encounter of terrorist Sohrabuddin Sheikh, during the Congress-led UPA rule. With the turn of fortunes, it is now Shah’s turn to settle scores.

But despite all the effort that went in, Patel has won. Apart from it being a morale booster, the win has sent a message to the faction ridden Congress that if the Party puts its might behind something, it still has a chance to be resurrected. If unity, strategy and work become the essence then it can take on the BJP and give it a run for its money. It has also signalled that it is too early to write off the grand old Party.

More importantly, Patel’s victory is a lesson for the leadership to take charge, do what it takes and move ahead rather than procrastinate and let events overtake them. In the recent past, there is enough evidence to demonstrate that the Congress under the new guard led by Rahul Gandhi is simply out of depth to take on an aggressive and assertive BJP that is ever ready to handle a crisis and turn it to its advantage.

Patel’s victory will also force a rethink on whether it is premature to let Rahul Gandhi handle the reins and whether Sonia should continue to lead from the front. Rahul has been keen on infusing young blood in the Party. In the recent past, senior leaders including Patel were sidelined. Patel, it is well known, has been under pressure since Rahul Gandhi took charge.  His defeat would have made him and many senior leaders more vulnerable.

Patel’s victory, apart from bringing him centre-stage, has once again underlined the relevance of the old guard and their utility in reshaping the Congress. His defeat sure would have sounded its death-knell.

The writer is a senior Indian journalist, political commentator and columnist of The Independent. She can be reached at: (kumkum91@gmail.com) 

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Editor : M. Shamsur Rahman
Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
Editorial, News & Commercial Offices : Beximco Media Complex, 149-150 Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1208, Bangladesh. GPO Box No. 934, Dhaka-1000.

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