High on hype

The dramatic win by Congress heavyweight and party president Sonia Gandhi’s prime protégé Ahmed Patel, edging the BJP nominee by half a vote after the Election Commission (EC) declared two BJP votes invalid because the candidates had shown their ballot papers to BJP chief Amit Shah, is good news for Congress after a long time.

The hype created around the contest had raised it to the level of a highly prestigious fight. Consequently, the defeat amounted to a huge loss of face for the BJP which did nothing to cut the excessive hype, sending three delegations of senior ministers to the EC to plead their case not to invalidate the two votes. Yet, on the ground, Ahmed Patel’s win means little. It is his fifth win for the Rajya Sabha but it would make no difference to the Congress fortunes which have been on a precipitous decline right since the party was mauled in the 2014 general elections.

Had Patel lost, however, it would have reinforced the feeling that not only was the party heading downhill but its leader Sonia was incapable of even getting her closest adviser elected. By that token, Patel’s win is a shot in the arm, albeit temporarily, for a beleaguered party.

So strong was the hype in the proxy battle between Amit Shah and Sonia Gandhi that Shah’s own win and that of Union Minister Smriti Irani in Rajya Sabha contests also from Gujarat were virtually ignored. While the BJP decides whether it would go on appeal against Ahmed Patel’s win to the Supreme Court, the Assembly elections in Gujarat are less than five months away. The fact is that of the 121 Assembly seats that the BJP has in the state, 90 went into electing Amit Shah and Smriti Irani. That meant that for the third seat the BJP was short by 14 legislators.

It is a matter of concern for the Congress that the BJP was able to bridge that gap through cross-voting and if the invalidity of two votes had not occurred Ahmed Patel would have lost. That both in the presidential elections and in the Rajya Sabha polls there was major cross-voting was primarily because of former State chief, Shankar Sinh Vaghela having quit the Congress with his flock. Clearly, with Assembly elections round the corner, the Congress needs to put its house in order if it is to make any impact.

It has little time for euphoria and smug satisfaction. While it has burnt its bridges with Vaghela, it must explore other avenues to be able to put up a meaningful fight. The generational divide in the party at the Central level needs to be addressed on a war footing, with realism and due tact.

         

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