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Ahmed Patel survives scare but Congress must do some real thinking to regain power in Gujarat

If the Rajya Sabha elections were a cricket match, the Congress could have claimed it won a seat in Gujarat by the Duckworth-Lewis method. In the end, a technicality helped it win an high-stakes election it had almost lost.
To be fair to the Congress, its candidate Ahmed Patel deserved to win from Gujarat since it had the required number of legislators in Gujarat before the BJP turned the election into a tamasha of democracy. With its unabashed use of power of all kinds — a trick, no doubt, borrowed from the Congress — it turned the election into an ode to horse-trading and a joke on anti-defection laws. Patel's loss would have been a blot on the spirit of Indian democracy, an ugly triumph of Machiavellian politics. But, it was not meant to be Amit Shah's day.

File image of Amit Shah and Ahmed Patel. PTi

File image of Amit Shah and Ahmed Patel. PTi

Much of the credit for the survival of democracy goes to the Election Commission — and this is a huge relief because of the times we live in. Today, many of India's institutions — the CBI and I-T Department, for instance — are accused of a pro-establishment bias. Their conduct has come under the scanner because of several instances that betray the lack of independence, a commitment to the agenda of the government in power.

The EC's decision to disqualify two Congress legislators for showing their ballot papers to unauthorised persons in spite of pressure from the BJP is a welcome sign that some of India's democratic institutions retain the ability to follow the law, protect the spirit of the Constitution and do what is right, even when faced with the government's might.

Obviously, on a night when democracy was under threat, there was just one clear winner -- India's EC. For the Congress and the BJP the honours were split. Both the parties won some and lost some, leaving the final outcome of the raging battle to the next round, when Gujarat goes to polls.

The Congress can breathe easy for now. Had Patel — the most powerful person in the party after the dynasty — lost the election, it would have been a huge embarrassment. His loss would have thrown the Congress into disarray before the Gujarat Assembly polls by proving that it was not in a position to keep its own house together. By winning his seat, Patel has ensured that the Congress goes into the Vidhan Sabha battle with its tail still up.
The game, of course, has just begun for the Congress in Gujarat. The BJP's all-out war on Congress legislators, the timing of I-T raids on the Karnataka minister who hosted the Congress MLAs at his resort in Bangalore, shows that the BJP will employ every trick to win the battle of Gujarat. The Congress will face a heavy onslaught from the BJP in the coming days that would test its resolve and character. There could be more defections, sleaze campaigns, conveniently-timed disclosures, allegations and opportunistic alliances to keep the Congress perennially on the backfoot.

Attempts to isolate the Congress, divide the opposition have already been manifest in the voting pattern during the Rajya Sabha polls. In spite of the NCP and the JD(U) legislators claiming to have voted for Patel, his final tally of 43 votes suggests only the Congress flock of 43 legislators who were herded in Bangalore supported him. The NCP's suspected betrayal is a huge setback for the Congress and a pointer to its supremo Sharad Pawar's next step. In a few months, we would know if Pawar will be the new Nitish Kumar for the opposition.

The inability of the Congress to ward off attacks from every direction, its inability to keep its flock together are poor reflections on its leadership, provided something of that nature even exists. It shows the Congress is in no position to benefit from the prevailing political environment in Gujarat.

For the BJP chief, this is part defiance of his sheh (checkmate) and part victory. That he managed to bring Patel and the entire Congress to its knees in an election the party could have won says a lot about his skills, strategy and resolve. That he failed to pull it off even after cornering Sonia Gandhi's wazir on the chess board would humble him, remind him others can also play his game and the Congress still has some fight left in it.

Hopefully, the next match would not be decided by D\L.

Updated Date: Aug 10, 2017 06:30 AM

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