BJP suffers a setback in RS by-poll from Gujarat
After a near rampage in one State after another, has the BJP been stopped in its tracks in Gujarat after the re-election of Ahmed Patel, Political Adviser to Mrs. Sonia Gandhi, to the Rajya Sabha for the sixth time in a row? Is it a big embarrassment for the NDA? Is it an embarrassment that need not have been? Was it the time to ponder over prospects? Was it time for a pause, for a tiny bit of patience? Or was it time for the steamroller to roll on at breakneck speed, but did it hit the speed-breaker?
Was it an issue big enough to challenge the supremacy of Prime Minister Narendra Modi? Having recently won the Presidential election and sworn in Mr. Ram Nath Kovind as India’s new Rashtrapati, the highest office in the land, on July 25, and ensured the election of Mr. Venkaiah Naidu as Vice-President, had the BJP not won some of the biggest races in the current year?
Yet how come it showed lack of political finesse and received a setback to its gloating time by a shock it need not have bothered to invite even in its wildest dreams or worst nightmares? If Mr. Amit Shah is the lord and master of all that he oversees in the saffron party hemisphere, did he have to believe that he will not let go even a small piece of cake?
Was he hell-bent on defeating the Congress Supremo’s most important player of the games for many years, 10, 20 or 30 years, to establish his own top dog position, acquired recently, in an effort to deliver yet one more accolade to his boss and master, Mr. Narendrabhai Damodardas Modi? Or has he on the contrary given a shock to his boss at a time he was least prepared for?
Are the two Houses of Parliament a wrestling arena inside and outside, with no holds barred manoeuvres? Or are they India’s highest temples of democracy? By some not so savoury happenings, especially since the beginning of this year, has free discussion and fair contest been given a go-by and a blow? Or has the ruling dispensation tried to send out a message that its thinking and commands brook no challenge?
Have the happenings in Gujarat and cross-voting by two Congress MLAs followed by a show of their ballot papers to the BJP agent in the hall rather than the Opposition representative desirable at all? Or have the bargaining counters by one and all parties in India, if not around the world, become the hallmark of the political minefield where boxing tactics are par for the course rather than parliamentary elections a test of people’s democratic rights?
These may not be the new issues or questions, but have they been brought to the fore yet again? With evidence on tape about the cross-voting, is there a chance or adequate legal strength for appeal against the Election Commission in a court of law, be it the High Court or the Supreme Court? Is there a constitutional issue involved or is it just the Representation of the People Act and the rules framed under it the issues at stake? Is the Election Commission, a constitutional authority endowed with judicial oversight, and its members equivalent in status to Supreme Court judges, not a court of appeal that should suffice in such controversial matters?
Be that as it may, Congress delegations and BJP delegations led by legal luminaries, including Ministers and former Ministers, were knocking at the doors of the Nirvachan Sadan in New Delhi until late into the night of August 8, if not the wee hours of August 9. Finally the counting could be taken up in the Gujarat Assembly voting chamber only at 1.30 a.m of Wednesday, with a day and night full of surprises, expectation and lack of it.
The result was a shock for the BJP and a victory for the Congress, which was made to appear crucial for both sides of the political divide. It should not have been; it need not have been that way. It reduced the political contention to horse-trading; in a way it was down to some kind of a sham, of which the political class cannot be proud.
With Mr. Amit Shah and Mrs. Smriti Irani having won two Rajya Sabha seats rather than all three that were up for grabs in Gujarat, will the BJP president be chastened a bit?
From the National Congress Party, has Praful Patel, failed? He was Civil Aviation Minister in the UPA, and used to claim that he was cat’s whiskers in handling that Ministry of flights because of his credentials as a business man. But do all business men make good politicians or do they go away creditably when they are thrown out of high office back to commerce, somewhat chastened?
Has Mr. Praful Patel had to bite the dust in the games he was playing? It was the other Patel, Ahmed, far more famous than himself, who made Praful bite the dust. Praful it was who had to eat the humble pie. Did Praful Patel act as a confident agent of the BJP by going with a written whip in hand to Gujarat’s capital, Gandhinagar, to ensure that two MLAs of his party voted for Mr. Amit Shah’s third BJP candidate for the Rajya Sabha, rather than Mr. Ahmed Patel, who was in his time next to the boss of the UPA and the sole link between Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Mrs. Sonia Gandhi, in the heyday of UPA?
Now the CBI is investigating a case of alleged misuse of Rs. 70,000 crores by Praful Patel, who is alleged to have ordered more than a hundred aircraft for the merged Air India and Indian Airlines, without genuine requirement? Is he now trying to save his skin while still riding a high horse and flying truly high in chartered planes in the service of the masters of today?
At the end of the day, Praful Patel’s games came to nothing because one of his two party legislators voted for the Congress and Mr. Ahmed Patel won with 44 votes as the requirement had been reduced from 45 by the Election Commission in view of illegal cross-voting.
It has been surmised as an engineered quid pro quo of sharing the NCP’s two votes, intended or unintended by Mr. Praful Patel, to please his former and present overlords, with Mr. Sharad Pawar operating behind the scenes. Will Mr. Praful Patel continue with his swagger, his “high ‘fallutin’ party suits”, as a man of all seasons in the party circuits of Delhi and Mumbai or for that matter in many commercial and political centres of the world, east or west? If Mr. Ahmed Patel had per chance lost, would it really have been a setback for him? Could he not have got elected as an MLA from Gujarat or even a member of a legislative council from anywhere in India, including Karnataka, like Amit Shah, who is still an MLA before he takes his oath as a member in the Rajya Sabha.
Ahmed Patel would have still retained his clout at No.10 Janpath, sometimes colloquially called “Sonia’s Den” just as Theresa May’s No.10 Downing Street is described as British Prime Minister’s “den” in English parlance.
There need not have been much of a problem with Mr. Ahmed Patel retaining his Lutyen’s bungalow for a few months or at commercial level rental for long. Mr. Ahmed Patel has been elected to the Rajya Sabha for the sixth time, having completed five six-year terms. It is quite a record for a youthful man with hardly a grey hair and just 67, and continuing to call the shots.
But is it solace enough for the Congress because it has been losing ground in one State after another? The BJP claims to have cornered 19 State Governments and hopes to win a few more States before the 2019 General Election to the Lok Sabha.
Lalit Sethi is a Journalist of long standing and a commentator on Political and Social Issues.