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In the presidential elections last month, at least eight Congress votes went to NDA candidate Ramnath Kovind, but it did not worry the party because these would not have swung the verdict in favour of Meira Kumar. Notwithstanding this defence, these votes were voices of dissent.
Going by the events unfolding at Gandhinagar during the Rajya Sabha elections the Congress saw its déjà vu moment on Tuesday with at least eight of its MLAs having cross voted in the Rajya Sabha elections which included Shankersinh Vaghela who announced his exit from Congress last month but decided to use his vote to make a point to the party he lived with, in various positions of power, for 18 years. Assuming the six MLAs who resigned from the party soon after Vaghela’s announcement, were among those who voted for Kovind, the Congress numbers now stand at 43–down by 14 within almost two weeks.
Even if Congress strategist Ahmed Patel gets into the Rajya Sabha for a fifth term, he would have to thank Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) supremo Sharad Pawar for the vote of one of the two NCP MLAs, and lone Janata Dal United MLA in Gujarat assembly, from the Sharad Yadav camp, Chhotu Vasava who is also from Bharuch, his home district. And rue the fact that his own party in his home state could not ensure even the two votes requisite for him to win. Ahead of an important assembly election which is already knocking at its door, ideally, this should be a huge let down for India’s biggest opposition party.
However, if one isolates the scramble for ensuring the one seat for Ahmed Patel in the Rajya Sabha as a battle of prestige, the war is not yet over. With the little time it has, the Congress has to think out of the box, go back to the electorate and bring out of the churn, new faces to fight and new strategies to win.
Comments from its top national leaders like Ghulam Nabi Azad, who said Patel was contesting as an MP and not as political secretary to Sonia Gandhi, Jairam Ramesh’s on the party facing an “existential crisis”, and Digvijay Singh’s tweet invoking the “Rajput” in Vaghela urging him to vote for Ahmed Patel, in the run up to the election to the Upper House, should be taken as warnings from its own, to be translated into action. Vaghela’s rebellion in the BJP in 1995 had split the party and brought down a government and ensured himself a chief ministership. Not any more. The Congress should take the event as fortunate . As the pieces fall in place, Vaghela’s design seems to have narrowed down to fit family interests — to ensure a future for his son Mahendrasinh and Balwantsinh Rajput. (Rajput’s son is married to Mahendrasinh’s daughter). Which is why after committing in public he did not vote for Ahmed Patel. Neither did his son who is soon to exit the Congress.
A good number of the exits from the Congress, even of the dyed-in-the-wool Congressmen, seemed to be provoked by issues other than intra party problems, possibly for protection of business interests.
To do a straight math, today the Congress stands where it was in 1995, when it won 45 seats against the BJP’s 121, when the BJP formed its first government in Gujarat under the chief ministership of Keshubhai Patel.
In the following assembly elections, in 1998, its score went up to 53 in the house of 182, plus the four MLAs of Vaghela’s Rashtriya Janata Party (RJP). By 2001, the Congress had 60 seats, having wrested seats from BJP in the by-elections including urban seats like Sabarmati in Ahmedabad and Sayajigunj in Vadodara. And that is when the BJP brought in the game changer –Narendra Modi.
The BJP won its highest ever seats at 127 in 2002, credited to the Hindutva wave that followed the Godhra train burning and the riots that followed. Even then the Congress had won 51 seats. The BJP victory in terms of seats fell to 117 in 2007 (Congress (59) and then to 115 in 2012 (Congress- 61). However, it soon made up in the by-elections and now stands at 120. Meanwhile, the Congress too covered some ground and the difference in its vote share vis-a vis the BJP was just around eight percent.
The numbers speak of a dedicated Congress votebank in Gujarat inspite of the Hindutva wave. Add to that the anti-incumbency votes.
The BJP, which has targetted a 150+ seat score in Gujarat for the assembly elections, will have to break into this bank to achieve this target. Sources in the BJP say, one of the ways to do it will be to buy out the Congress MLAs. If 43 of the 57 Congress MLAs who were elected on the Congress symbol in 2012 have restrained from the lure of the lucre or power to back Ahmed Patel, it is already a good sign.
As for the Rajya Sabha, where the Congress has 57 MPs and BJP 58, it is not just the question of losing one seat, but that of who loses. If BJP gains one more seat it will validate BJP chief Amit Shah’s strategy of putting up a Congress defector, but if Congress loses Ahmed Patel from this house, it should be a loud wake up call for the 2019 parliamentary elections, since the party has been steadily losing ground even in states that swore by it, more because of opposition within.