Ahmed Patel's Gujarat RS poll victory is important but Congress' revival will take a lot more

As India on Tuesday observed the 75th anniversary of Quit India Movement, it was again a ‘Do or Die’ fight for the Congress to ensure victory of its one and only Rajya Sabha nominee from Gujarat, Ahmed Patel.

Giving rest to all speculations, Ahmed Patel has finally made it to Rajya Sabha from his home state Gujarat. The backroom strategy has outsmarted the game of numbers, which initially looked like simple arithmetic.

The high drama associated with the election to the Rajya Sabha seat from Gujarat, for which Patel contested, has catapulted the low-profile number game of the Upper House to the level of a Lok Sabha election. It continued past midnight with hectic parleys by BJP and Congress members, both in Gandhinagar and New Delhi, and making rounds of the Election Commission — to ensure victory of their respective candidates.

But, “Jo jeeta wohi Sikandar (The one who wins is the king)". And Patel has emerged as the ‘Sikandar’, after the midnight drama. Now, it’s celebration time for the Congress, which anyway has faced several defeats since 2014.

File image of Ahmed Patel. PTI

File image of Ahmed Patel. PTI

What is it about Ahmed Patel that made the election to this one seat so important that the two principle parties of the country — the BJP and the Congress — had to pull out all tricks from their political rule books to checkmate the other?

Was it much ado about nothing or was Ahmed Patel's re-election, indeed, crucial for Congress' survival?

This election got eyeballs as Patel, the chief strategist of Congress president Sonia Gandhi, who exercises immense clout within the party’s top leadership, contested again for the Rajya Sabha seat. Given his position and authority, it became a matter of prestige for the Congress, especially Sonia Gandhi, to ensure Patel’s victory.

Ever since Sonia became the Congress chief, the understated Patel emerged as a powerful leader and backroom strategist, who chose to keep himself out of public and media glare. Though he hardly made any statement during Parliament debate, unlike his other colleagues, he is one of the closest leaders to the party chief.

A month before the election, Congress had gone on an overdrive to protect its MLAs from getting poached. The media got engrossed in deciphering the permutation and combination for the three Rajya Sabha seats – the other two seats have been won by BJP candidates, party president Amit Shah and Union minister Smriti Irani.

Patel’s victory has burst BJP’s bubble of invincibility, as this Rajya Sabha election in Gujarat was a kind of proxy war between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Sonia Gandhi.

However, keeping the outcome of this election aside, Patel’s victory really doesn’t matter much for the Congress. Had he lost, it would have been a dent on the image of Sonia Gandhi; but too much has been read into it.

Congress’ challenge lies elsewhere and not in getting Patel a berth in the Rajya Sabha.

Patel's victory will act as a catalyst for the Gujarat Congress ahead of the Assembly election scheduled to be held next year. But, for that, the party will have to strengthen itself both at the grassroot level and at the level of the senior leadership.

Senior Congress leader Jairam Ramesh in a recent interview had reportedly said, “The Congress is facing an existential crisis. It has to change.”

Referring to the Congress, former union minister Ramesh, who’s considered an important member of Rahul’s close-knit advisory group, said, “Congress had faced electoral crisis from 1996 to 2004…The Sultanate gone, but we behave as if we’re Sultans still… We have to understand we are up against Mr Modi (PM) and Mr Shah… And if we are not flexible in our approach, we’ll become irrelevant.”

The observation of Ramesh sums up well what Congress has to do now.

The biggest challenge before the party is its leadership. The party that once had a pan-India presence and dominated both at the Centre and most of the states in the country is gradually losing its grassroot connect. The new-age voters are looking towards the BJP and not the Congress. Even the relatively new party with no political background — Arvind Kejriwal-led Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) — outsmarted Congress’s 15-year-old government in Delhi.

Many have questioned the absence of Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi from the Congress Working Committee meeting that was held on Tuesday. And it’s not the first time. Earlier too, on many occasions, when the party needed him, he was conspicuous by his absence.

It's high time for the Congress leadership to understand that Modi and Shah practise ruthless politics like former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, where every electoral strategy is executed with surgical precision. There is no room for complacency and ‘chalta hai (It’s okay)' attitude.

Mere setting up of new departments within the Congress (as two new departments – All India Professionals Congress and All India Unorganised Workers Congress were formed recently) won’t help. It needs a serious revamp. Ramesh is not the first senior Congress leader to air his grievance; many have done it in the past — including three-term former Delhi CM Sheila Dikshit.

Politics is a relentless fight — day after day. And Congress seems to have lost the will to carry on this fight. Maybe this victory of Ahmed Patel, who has served three generations of the Nehru-Gandhi family (starting with Indira Gandhi), will give a message to the younger generation to pull up its socks and get ready for a series of upcoming Assembly elections.

Updated Date: Aug 09, 2017 14:37 PM

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