A few days ago, Prime Minister Narendra Modi flew over flood-hit areas of Gujarat – a privilege that was denied to many other Indian states facing the wrath of monsoons this year.
It would be facile to argue that the prime minister doesn't care about other states. But, it would not be wrong either to argue that Gujarat in many ways is the primus inter pares for Modi, a state that he guards zealously like his last bastion.
The ongoing drama in Gujarat and turmoil in the Congress, thus, should be seen in the context of the state's importance in Modi's – and by extension BJP president Amit Shah's – scheme of things. The state should be seen as a battleground Modi and Shah would try to dominate with every weapon in their arsenal – saam, daam, dand, bhed.
So, it has come to pass that the Congress is in complete disarray just a few months before the Gujarat Assembly elections. Its most prominent face, Shankersinh Vaghela, arguably the only leader who could have given Modi-Shah a tough time, has quit, leading a small bunch of turncoats like Pied Piper. Its legislators have been herded in a Karnataka resort, fearing more predatory raids by the BJP. And, its plans of sending senior party leader Ahmed Patel to the Rajya Sabha via Gujarat are on knife's edge, with more and more MLAs threatening to cross-vote for the BJP.
Patel's plight is a perfect metaphor for the mess within the Congress. That the political advisor to the Congress president, the man who ran the Congress from behind the curtain for several years, is uncertain of victory in his home state despite having the numbers till a few days ago is a tragicomic reminder of the decline of the party and its utter incompetence to break the freefall.
Congress spokesperson and Gujarat legislator Bharat Singh Solanki claims the BJP came up with an irresistible offer of cash and ticket for the Assembly polls. Nobody can prove the Congress allegation of its MLAs being offered Rs 15 crore to switch loyalties in Gujarat. But, as Bashir Badr famously said, "kuch to majbooriyan rahi hongi, yun koi bewafa nahin hota". Whether it is fear, greed, inducement or plain disenchantment with the party, the compulsion behind their treachery, only the Congress turncoats can tell us.
But, the BJP's compulsions in destabilising the Congress are apparent. One, the Opposition is running in all directions at the moment since the twin setbacks in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, one an electoral loss, the other a bloodless coup by its own poster boy. The BJP wants to ensure that the Opposition gets absolutely no opportunity to regroup and mount a challenge in Gujarat.
Two, the political situation in Gujarat is still unpredictable. The Patidar unrest two years ago, Dalit anger after violence in Una, the rise of new leaders like Hardik Patel and Jignesh Mewani and the confusion among traders because of demonetisation and GST is yet to play out electorally.
In spite of the series of defeats over the past two decades, the Congress has been closing the vote share gap with the BJP, bringing it down to just nine percent in 2012. Obviously, even a small swing of votes away from the BJP could prove costly in the next election. The BJP is making every effort to ensure the Congress doesn't benefit from the dynamic political environment in the state.
The Congress, of course, is to be blamed for its current plight and chaos among legislators. Rahul Gandhi, like always, has shown a complete lack of ability to provide leadership. Time and again – in Assam, Goa, Arunachal Pradesh and Bihar – he has failed to take timely decisions and deal with dissent, exposing himself as helpless, clueless and tactless. His inability to deal with Vaghela's ambition, most likely, has cost the Congress the 2018 Gujarat election and the chance to regroup before 2019.
But, how does one expect a party to douse the fires ravaging it when its chief political strategist is running around with his tail on fire!
Updated Date: Aug 01, 2017 06:42 AM