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The real reason behind Congress' decimation in Gujarat bypolls

I'm delighted the Congress lost all six by-elections in Gujarat last week.

The six seats, two for the Lok Sabha and four for the state assembly, now with the Bharatiya Janata Party, were all earlier held by the Congress. Chief minister Narendra Modi succeeded in blanking out the Gandhis and their underlings, who were only days ago crowing about how their win in Karnataka heralded some sort of Congress revival.

Had the Congress won the by-elections in Gujarat, this would have been chalked down to the family genius and a decline in Modi’s charisma. The failure of the party to stand for anything, the real reason for its decimation, would have been covered up again.

Under Sonia Gandhi, the Congress has slowly surrendered the entire secular space in Gujarat to whoever wants it. The Congress in Gujarat does not stand for the values it claims in the rest of the country.

This process began when Sonia Gandhi hired Shankarsinh Vaghela only months after she became Congress president. Vaghela, a Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh man who had fought against other BJP leaders in Gujarat, was sulking with his party because it had not made him chief minister. He had not suddenly become secular when the Congress decided to make him its face in Gujarat.

Reuters

Congress party flag is seen in his file photo. Reuters

Ever since then, and this was 15 years ago, the Congress strategy in the state has been to not insist on full-dress secularism but to ignore what was going on there and just bide time till power came automatically to it.

Everything it has done in Gujarat politically since has unfolded from this belief, capped by the remarkable manifesto that it put out late last year. The Congress did not even refer to the conviction of a minister in Modi’s cabinet for rioting and murder because it did not want attention to be drawn again to the riots. The thinking is that when such matters are referred to, the voter shows his angry Hindu side and then sides with the BJP.

The reason Sonia Gandhi accepts this is that she has been convinced by her political secretary Ahmed Patel, a Gujarati from Bharuch, that his state had become totally communal and there was no point in resisting the mindset of Gujaratis.

The results are before us. The Congress has not won a majority in Gujarat for 28 years (the last time was in 1985). Its tearing down of the Babri masjid and two riots, one in 1992 and the other a decade later, gave the BJP the momentum that has kept it in power there longer than in any other state.

And this is unlikely to change in the total absence of the Congress from the field. What is present in Gujarat today is not the Congress of Gandhi and Nehru. It is a party that, to be fair, is not anti-Muslim as the BJP is, but, depending on how one sees it, either pragmatic or lacking in principle.

Sonia Gandhi thinks she is being pragmatic, but the fact is that too much pragmatism can produce a lack of principle, and this has happened in Gujarat.

In any case the giving up on secularism has proved, as the by-elections show once again, to be a failed strategy. Waiting for power to arrive on its own at your doorstep is stupid.

The Congress position in Gujarat is also an immoral, and dishonest because it is different from what the Congress serves up in the rest of the country.

At a time when the BJP is positioning Modi as leader of its campaign (though I don't think he will be prime ministerial nominee), the Congress will need to counter him in Gujarat with something. Today Modi is allowed to talk about other issues because the Congress does not challenge his record on communalism in Gujarat.

The brand of Congress in Gujarat, as an inclusive party that does not compromise with the vulgar anti-Muslim posture of the BJP, will need to be built once again.

It stands for nothing today.

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