None of the dramatis personae in the Gujarat Rajya Sabha poll theatrical has covered himself with glory. The cliffhanger election, with all the trappings of a high drama, has exposed the dark corners of both the players—BJP and Congress. The acrimonious battle of prestige between them had all the elements of intrigue, suspense, inducements and betrayal. At the end of it, Congress veteran Ahmed Patel, the cynosure of all eyes, managed to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. Patel, arguably the most influential backroom strategist and political adviser to party president Sonia Gandhi, retained the seat for the fifth consecutive term with 44 votes, the exact number that was required to win. This was thanks to the Election Commission’s midnight decision to invalidate the votes of two Congress rebel MLAs who violated the secrecy by showing their ballot papers to the BJP’s representatives after voting in favour of the ruling party. But for those two invalid votes, Patel would have lost the election in what could have been a severe blow to the Congress leadership. The close shave for Patel has exposed the chinks in the already rusting armour of the Congress. With Assembly elections round the corner, it suffered desertions with party stalwart Shankarsinh Vaghela and his followers raising the banner of revolt. The party’s tally in the Assembly was reduced to 51. As the RS polls drew closer, it went into panic mode and shepherded 44 of its loyal MLAs to a luxury resort in Bengaluru to prevent poaching.
On the D-day, however, the Congress went through anxious moments, unsure whether all its legislators would vote for the official nominee. It finally turned out that Patel’s victory was possible because of the support from rebels from other parties. BJP chief Amit Shah, who makes his Parliamentary debut, and Union Minister Smriti Irani made it to the Upper House quite easily. The BJP’s image suffered a dent following allegations of using money power and intimidation to break the opposition camp. The timing of the Income Tax raids on the properties of Karnataka Minister DK Shivakumar, whose resort provided shelter to the Congress MLAs, raised several eyebrows. For the Congress, which is smarting under defections and cross-voting, it would be premature to view the re-election of Patel as a sign of a political comeback. It needs to introspect why there is a complete disconnect between the high command’s choice and the local leadership. The opposition party is not in a position to exploit the anti-incumbency factor that hangs over the BJP government, which is in its fifth term, in Gujarat. The Congress has only itself to blame for the sorry state of affairs prevailing in the State.