On a day when the country was celebrating the 75th anniversary of the Quit India Movement, the nation was witnessing the ugliest face of Indian democracy. Certainly, the man who gave the “Do and Die” slogan and revolutionised the minds of the people, would not be happy to see this turn of events in his beloved Gujarat. Ironically, the entire drama was played out on the soil which gave birth to the greatest of Indian souls, Bapu.
As the whole country slept on the night of August 9, the great Indian political saga unveiled itself : defection, money and muscle power for the shameless purchase of people’s representatives. The naked dance of vulgar politics. The return of lumpenisation in the hallowed grounds of power. But in the end the BJP putsch failed. Ahmed Patel had won.
Nobody had thought that the election of three of Rajya Sabha seats in Gujarat would become such a cliffhanger and the BJP led by prime minister Narendra Modi would go to any extent to prevent Sonia’s political secretary Ahmed Patel, from winning. What should have been a smooth walkover began going awry two weeks ago when six Congress MLAs defected to the BJP and the old Congress horse Shankar Singh Vaghela rebelled, for which he was suspended from the party. The Congress then did what all hugely nervous parties tend to do to shelter their flock from wandering, they transported them to a resort in nearby Karnataka.
Lo and behold, the Income Tax department raided the resort where MLAs were staying and the person managing the entire show in Bangalore, Congress minister D K Shivakumar, began to be hounded by the agencies.
One is tempted to ask why this one seat assumed so much importance. Was it because Ahmed Patel was once considered the most powerful man in Delhi after Sonia Gandhi and Manmohan Singh. Perhaps, but there is an ideological element too. While the BJP-led NDA is desperate to win a majority in the Rajya Sabha — the BJP emerged as the single largest party in Upper house, upstaging the Congress last week — it is still far away from that magical number. Modi feels chained by that fact. Several legislations have been stalled, leading finance minister Arun Jaitley to describe it as “the tyranny of the unelected.” That is why the BJP will do its best to get every possible seat to achieve that figure.
This story has a regional twist too. Gujarat assembly elections are due in December. Modi is no longer chief minister and the current incumbent, Vijay Rupani, is no match. He has neither mass appeal nor the aura of a leader. He is at best a titular head whose two stalwarts are the country’s most powerful men.
Over the last three years, Gujarat has suffered in other ways as well. The patidar caste, the traditional supporters of the BJP, have been on the warpath since their leader, Hardik Patel, was imprisoned for treason. The community believes that it has been treated most shabbily. Dalits are also angry because of the BJP’s indifferent attitude on the brutal beatings of Dalits by cow vigilantes in Una. A ‘chhattriya’ movement against illegal liquor led by Alpesh Thakur is also giving sleepless nights to the BJP. More than two decades of anti-incumbency can spell doom for the party and its power duo, Modi and Amit Shah.
The whole Ahmed Patel incident was designed to showcase the fickleness and probity of unsure Congressmen who don’t think twice about dumping their party for greener pastures. That only the BJP is the right choice. But as always that question lurks in the background, is it that simple ?
It is becoming increasingly clear that Modi is the real inheritor of Mrs Indira Gandhi’s legacy who epitomised power politics in India. She was Nehru’s daughter but she wasn’t like him; she wasn’t a practitioner of lofty ideals, rather as Isaac Deutscher said, a “technician of power”.
Modi has modelled himself on her. Like Mrs Gandhi he does not like strong challengers and powerful grassroot leaders, neither in his party nor outside. He knows he can continue to rule as prime minister if the Congress remains weak. During the 2014 elections, he issued a call for “Congress-mukt Bharat” (free India from the Congress) and so the BJP broke every rule in the book to prevent the Congress, the single largest party in both Goa and Manipur, from taking office. Before the Congress realized what was going on, the battle was lost. Modi’s boys also toppled duly elected Congress governments in Uttarakhand and Arunachal Pradesh, which were reinstated by the Supreme Court later.
The attack on Ahmed Patel was scripted with twin objectives. It was basically an attack on Sonia Gandhi, an attempt to show that the ruling deity of the Congress wasn’t safe, nor would she be spared. Ahmed Patel is Sonia Gandhi’s Man Friday, her most trusted lieutenant. His defeat would have broken the hallo around him and his boss. The BJP wanted to drive home the message that Congress leaders are also mere mortals.
Second, the attack was designed to have a demoralising effect on the party. It was a game of mental disintegration. The Congress is already going through an existential crisis as Jairam Ramesh has said. This episode will certainly scare Congressmen looking for longer careers in politics. It has sent them a clear message which says that if their top leaders are struggling, then how will they float ?
Inadvertently, there is the communal angle. Ahmed Patel is Muslim. But in the BJP, since Modi and Amit Shah took charge, not one Muslim has been given a ticket. In its Lok Sabha of 282 MPs, not one is Muslim. On the other hand, mob-lynchings of Muslim boys and men like Akhlaq and Junaid, matters unheard of since independence, have reared their ugly head. It is becoming clear that in the BJP/RSS’s scheme of things and its desire for “masculine-nationalism”, Muslims are hardly equal.
Ahmed Patel has safely sailed through. I’m not sure if this incident will enhance his political stature. Far more worrying is the BJP’s naked hunger for power and its willingness to employ every trick in the book.
This is not a healthy sign for democracy – India has seen it before. Mrs Gandhi behaved exactly in the same way, crushing every institution, dismantling opposition and promoting rootless wonders. As for Modi followers, this episode may all look very exciting on camera, but it will, ultimately, weaken the party. One can safely call it the beginning of the BJP’s “becoming” like the grand old party.