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Booster for Congress
After victory in Rajya Sabha from Gujarat, Congress may finally get galvanised into action
What should have been a routine exercise to elect three new members to the Rajya Sabha from Gujarat turned into an unprecedented political slugfest with a nail-biting finish that ended in the early hours of Wednesday, that too after the Election Commission's (EC) intervention. The drama which preceded the election is well-known: It included keeping 44 Congress MLAs captive at a resort near Bengaluru, defection of several legislators, frequent changes of stance by MLAs belonging to smaller parties like the Janata Dal(United) and the Nationalist Congress Party and concluded with high-power delegations knocking at EC's doors armed with documentary and videographic evidence to influence the Election Commissioners. It is commendable that the EC brass did not lose nerve under extreme pressure. They went by the book, relying on past precedent and Supreme Court's orders in similar disputes of yore. Admittedly, it was not an easy call for the EC to take. But they took a decision after prolonged deliberation which might not please the BJP, but seems on the face of it, to be the most appropriate. BJP chief Amit Shah may have had good reasons to mount a no-holds-barred campaign to try and deny Congress heavyweight and Sonia Gandhi's political secretary Ahmed Patel his sixth Rajya Sabha term. But by raising the pitch to this extent, the BJP has only itself to blame for the embarrassment it now faces. The Congress, on its part, did not cover itself with glory by forcibly confining its legislators first in a Karnataka resort and later at another one near Ahmedabad. It showed the party's nervousness and lack of faith in its own MLAs. Whether the BJP tried to lure them as alleged by the Congress, will never be proved, but there is no doubt that this election brought out the most unsavoury of contemporary Indian political practices.
A significant sidelight of this high tension election was the somersault of Shankarsinh Vaghela, once a BJP stalwart and later UPA Minister. He masterminded the defection of six Congress MLAs to the BJP on the eve of polling, re-establishing his unenviable reputation as a slippery customer. It may be recalled that he had led a bunch of BJP MLAs to Khajuraho in the 90s in a bid to topple the then Chief Minister Keshubhai Patel's Ministry in Gujarat. He did not succeed then and this time too, the man he wanted to defeat in the Rajya Sabha contest managed to win the coveted seat by a whisker. With Assembly polls in Gujarat round the corner, the Rajya Sabha election had assumed disproportionate political importance. Had the BJP succeeded in stalling Ahmed Patel's bid, it would have reinforced Shah's well deserved reputation as a master strategist and election manager. But finally Ahmed Patel, no mean strategist himself, triumphed in the toughest challenge he faced in his political career. The Congress, reeling under successive electoral defeats, a demoralised cadre and absentee leadership, might have given up the fight for the Gujarat Assembly. But adrenaline appears to be rushing through the Congress's veins once again. This may have been a contest for just one seat in the upper House, but its psychological impact will be far-reaching. For the sake of an effective Opposition, it can be hoped that Wedneday's victory will shake the Congress top leadership out of somnolence and its vice president will take the responsibilities thrust upon him by virtue of dynastic lineage a little more seriously.
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