How Ahmed Patel ruined Congress in Gujarat

How Ahmed Patel ruined Congress in Gujarat
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Highlights

Ahmed Patel may have managed to scrape through to Rajya Sabha in the hotly contested poll last fortnight in Gujarat but the Congress party is likely to be doomed in the forthcoming assembly polls at the end of this year.

Ahmed Patel may have managed to scrape through to Rajya Sabha in the hotly contested poll last fortnight in Gujarat but the Congress party is likely to be doomed in the forthcoming assembly polls at the end of this year.

This is what wizened analysts aver and the portended Congress defeat will be a real pity because the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is ruling the state over for over two decades continuously. By implication, even in spite of ruling at the Centre, the BJP faces significant anti–incumbency in the state.

In fact, BJP’s major support base of Patels is showing signs of cracking up and a significant section is disenchanted with the saffron party. Why would the Congress then not be able to tap into this anti-incumbency and boost its prospects? The reason is very simple: The Congress party has become a clone of the BJP in Gujarat and to a large number of people the two do not appear to be too different. So, if the original goods are available why should anybody subscribe to the duplicate product?

Once the predominant political force in Gujarat which won a record 151 out of total 182 seats in the 1985 assembly polls, the Congress yielded way to the BJP which unleashed its Mandir strategy at the end of the 1980s. After the 2002 Gujarat riots, the Congress could not ever stand up to the BJP and lost its ideological moorings completely. In fact, the Congress ambivalence was seen from the time of the riots – when no local Congress leaders were seen in the public dousing the fire. Most of them had taken cover and many are alleged to have implicitly supported the goings-on. What is more, the local leaders had convinced the central leaders to maintain a low profile because intervention would aggravate the situation and turn the anger of the people against the Congress.

In the 2004 general elections, the Congress came to power in New Delhi at the head of the United Progressive Alliance (UPA). It is acknowledged by electoral analysts that this Congress victory was a manifestation of the reaction of minorities nationwide against the BJP. But even being in power at the Centre for the next ten years, the Congress leaders could do nothing to build the party and strength in Gujarat. A huge blame for this falls on the shoulder of Ahmed Patel.

There are three views about Ahmed Patel which are current in the circle of analysts. One is that he is a wily power politician and deal maker with no ideology whatsoever and is in league with enemies of his party. He has calculatedly prevented the Congress party from rearing its head up in Gujarat, goes this line of thinking.

The second view is that Patel is too careful a man and a rather conservative decision-maker. He is the man who has constantly held back the steps of Sonia Gandhi. Of course, this has been possible because Ahmed has Sonia’s ears like nobody else. Though nobody denies that Ahmed Patel is a deal maker, the third view about him is perhaps the most correct. This is that as a Gujarati Muslim he has been silenced by the goings-on in the state ever since BJP started consolidating in Gujarat and has never been able to take an independent view.

In other words, Ahmed Patel’s insecurity about being a Muslim has allowed his good sense to disappear. Since he is the main advisor to Sonia Gandhi, she has been getting wrong counsel from him about how to proceed with the Congress in the state. Admittedly however, the ultimate blame should be put in the head of Sonia Gandhi as she is the boss of the Congress party. That this view of Ahmed’s lack of confidence is correct is apparent from his personal electoral history.

A three term Lok Sabha MP from Bharuch in south Gujarat in 1977, 1980 and 1985, Ahmed Patel lost to an unknown candidate in 1989. This is the last Lok Sabha election he contested – thereafter he preferred the Rajya Sabha seat to Parliament. From 1993 he has been a Rajya Sabha MP and got elected to a fifth term on August 8. Journalists to whom he has confided say Patel believes that as a Muslim it is not possible to win from the Lok Sabha – that is why he is in the Rajya Sabha. In other words, his confidence is low because he is a Muslim and this has affected his ability to fight back. To cover this up, Patel has increasingly positioned himself as a grand strategist and built an USP for himself.

Ahmed Patel’s lack of poise can be contrasted with the supreme confidence of Narendra Modi and Amit Shah. Both are 24x7 politicians and absolutely focused on achieving what they aim at. This has allowed Modi to surmount all his problems in Gujarat even though he had many times decidedly been on the back foot. As a good example, this time too BJP has started on a tricky wicket in Gujarat.

The last chief minister Anandiben Patel had to be replaced one year ago as Patidar and Dalit agitations shook Gujarat and weakened the hegemony of the BJP in its citadel. The replacement chief minister Vijay Rupani has turned out just about average. With signals being clear that the situation is none too great in Gujarat, the Modi-Amit Shah duo, besides increasing their direct involvement in the state, gave a call for BJP 150+ (this means that the party will target more than 150 seats in the assembly, a figure it never attained). In other words, although the party is in none-too-great condition, the duo has given a signal that the party will aim sky high.

After this confidence booster, aimed at galvanising the party, the party bosses began to poach on the Congress. As a result, the Congress began to crack even as the most muscular MLA and leader of opposition in the legislative assembly, Shankar Singh Vaghela, deserted the party with a handful of loyalists. One of the deserting MLAs, the chief whip of the Congress legislature party was put up for the Rajya Sabha polls to oppose Ahmed Patel who won by the skin of his teeth.

Shaken by his near defeat, Ahmed Patel is now trying to project an aggressive stance and all his anger seems to be reserved for Vaghela who engineered the defections. But if Patel introspected, he would realise that it is he who had mistrusted Vaghela and prevented the use of the genius of the latter to take on the BJP aggressively. Vaghela was the only Congressman who was a former RSS man and knew Modi, in and out.

So, his assistance would have been invaluable. In any case, Patel’s fulminations may be temporary before he recedes to his usual self. The Congress has damaged itself so badly that they have little hope in the soon-to-be elections. The new opposition in Gujarat will only arise from motley movements of Patels, Dalits and Thakores and the likes of Ahmed Patel have to bear the responsibility for annihilation of the grand old party in Gujarat.

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