Ahmed Patel winning the Rajya Sabha seat is not going to turn around matters or ensure the Congress party regaining power in Gujarat. It will require a lot more.
For a strategist who prefers remaining in the shadows coupled with being the political secretary to Congress president Sonia Gandhi for more than 15 years, it should not have surprised those who have watched Ahmed Patel closely to get the better of BJP president Amit Shah in winning the Rajya Sabha seat in his home state of Gujarat.
There is no doubt Patel seemed edgy throughout Tuesday till late at night when the results were declared. Without exception most of the Congress heavyweights backed him by knocking at least thrice on the doors of the Election Commission of India and succeeded in having its objection upheld. That not only ended the nail chilling suspense raising hopes about the door being barely ajar for the desperate Congress to bid for a comeback.
This had become a prestige issue for Shah, who was elected to the House of Elders along with union minister Smriti Irani. That brought down the curtain on a day of high drama with the pendulum swinging back and forth about Patel’s prospect of winning which was nothing short of a cliff hanger.
Even as the Congress wasted no time in expelling eight MLAs for cross voting, the BJP’s bubble of invincibility has been burst in Gujarat which was seen as a proxy war between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Sonia Gandhi.
Patel’s win is a shot in the arm for the Congress which has been steadily losing ground in the country over the last three years since the BJP led NDA came to power in 2014. This win has raised the hopes of the oldest party in the country making a determined bid to regain power in Gujarat. That is, however, highly premature at this juncture.
Blocking Patel’s entry into the Rajya Sabha was clearly in keeping with the BJP’s desire of striving for a “Congress mukt Bharat”. At the same time the discriminating feel the Congress faces an uphill task in the assembly elections in Gujarat later this year as the party organisation is in a shambles besides being riven with factionalism.
The contest for the Rajya Sabha seat was bitter and brought to the fore how such elections should not be fought. The elected representaties of the people in State assemblies constitute the electors and it is an abuse of this scheme by political parties to encourage cross voting which should be desisted. When the strength of the assembly is known, it is unseemly to field an extra candidate and force a contest.
Literally in the dumps, the Congress party has been laid low by the BJP over the last 36 months since Prime Minister Narendra Modi came to power in 2014. It is in this context that its senior leader and former Union minister Jairam Ramesh drew attention to the party facing an existential crisis and its leaders behaving like Sultans having lost their Sulatanate. The points raised by him needs to be discussed with the seriousness it deserves in the highest party fora.
There is urgent need to reinvent itself and move beyond a few predetermined and ordained leaders from the dynasty who have failed to make any impact or infuse confidence among the people at large.
The Congress direly needs to prop up youthful and energetic faces who have the capacity to make a difference to the Old Lady of Bori Bunder. There have hardly been any new faces that have come to the fore in the last decade and a half which has proved to be a major dampener for its revival.
The challenges for the party are manifold and not just resting on the laurels of getting Patel a berth in the Rajya Sabha. There is no doubt he is one of the main and powerful faces of the party in Gujarat. Patel’s win is bound to strengthen the Congress and particularly the old guard. However, the party’s turnaround will require redoubled efforts in Gujarat and a lot more as the challenge for the Congress lies elsewhere than Patel winning the Rajya Sabha seat.