Congress breaking up in Gujarat

| | in Oped

BJP is trying to win the upcoming Gujarat Assembly election and the Congress has fallen into its trap by neglecting the organisational interests of its MLAs, losing ground quickly inspite of having many issues to embarrass the BJP

It is said that trouble never comes alone but comes in a row, and the grand old Congress is presently experiencing this. Since 2014, when the party won just 44 seats in the Lok Sabha poll, (the lowest ever) the Congress has been sliding downward continuously — except for the good show in Bihar in 2015 and in Punjab in 2017.

Now, after the blow by Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar of breaking the mahagadbandhan last week and joining with the BJP, the Congress is facing trouble from its own stable in Gujarat as the party Legislators are in a rebellious mood. Six of them have already resigned and more are threatening to do so.

The Congress is all set to break up in Gujarat, as there is every chance of cross-voting in the ensuing Rajya Sabha poll, which the Congress strategist and senior Congress leader Ahmed Patel is contesting for his fifth term. If he loses it would mean a loss of face for the top Congress leadership. Ahmed Patel has been one of the top leaders of the party and political advisor to Sonia Gandhi and also a strategist.

There are three Rajya Sabha seats in which BJP chief Amit Shah and Minister of Textiles Smriti Irani are contesting, while Patel is contesting from the third seat. The BJP is supporting a rebel Congress Member of the Legislative Assembly (MLA) who had quit the party — the right hand man of Ahmed Patel, Balwantsinh Rajput. Though on the backfoot, Patel is making all out efforts to win the seat.

The Congress is in a Catch-22 situation. In Gujarat, where the Assembly election is due later this year, the ruling BJP is pursuing a plan to embarrass the Congress and expose its weakness. One way of doing this was to break the Congress legislature party and get some MLAs to its fold. It reached out to its one- time leader Shankersinh Vaghela, who was in the Congress. Trouble started last week when he resigned from the party and also as the Leader of the Opposition from the 13th Gujarat Legislative Assembly.

Vaghela, however, continues to be an MLA and is said to have the support of at least 11 Congress Legislators. The Congress has 57 MLAs in the 182-seat Gujarat Assembly. Patel needs the support of 47 votes to win.

Six MLAs, supporters of Vaghela, have already resigned, including its chief whip Balwantsinh Rajput and spokesperson Tajeshriben Patel, a one-time right-hand man of Ahmed Patel. Balwantsinh Rajput is now contesting for the third seat with the BJP’s support.

Sharad Pawar’s Nationalist Congress Party and Nitish Kumar’s Janata Dal (United) have reportedly offered the support of three members. Even if that happens, it’s a close call for Ahmed Patel. For the BJP, Patel’s defeat would mean a big political victory.


Why is Gujarat important for the Congress? The Congress was hoping to do well in the ensuing Assembly poll, depending mainly on the anti-incumbency factor faced by the BJP and also on its consistent 30 per cent vote share.

The BJP and the Congress are the two main parties in the State and the Congress has been out of power for three decades now. In the last couple of years, Gujarat has witnessed some major agitations, which attracted the support of huge crowds. The Hardik Patel-led Patidar reservation agitation, the counter agitation of OBC Kshatriyas led by Alpesh Thakor, the atrocities by the cow vigilante groups against Scheduled Castes in Una and the massive anti-Goods and Services Tax protests in Surat and elsewhere by the textile and diamond merchants had given issues to the Congress to fight for.

The party had been hopeful of substantial gains in Gujarat till just a few months ago to make use of the discontent around.

 Why did the Congress lose its advantage over the BJP? First, it failed to control the dissidence within the party, which was simmering for some time. Ahmed Patel had complete control of the State. The local Congress leaders were unhappy that they were being side-lined. Not recognising the ground-level situation, the Congress leadership did not see the rebellion coming and might lose its golden opportunity by sheer negligence.

Second, even after the Vaghela camp asserted itself, the party leadership failed to placate the dissidents, despite knowing that the party needed the 11 MLAS belonging to Vaghela camp for its Rajya Sabha seat. Vaghela, who had been a tall leader, had been upset that the party was not willing to nominate him as the chief ministerial candidate. He became the magnet for other disgruntled elements. The result was that he left the party.

Third, the Congress leadership did not see the continuous danger signals in the past month or so. It emanated early this month when 11 Congress Legislators belonging to Vaghela camp cross-voted and supported the NDA presidential candidate Ram Nath Kovind. After the spate of resignations, belated though, the Congress has flown its flock of 44 MLAs to Bengaluru to a five-star resort. The defections spell trouble for Ahmed Patel.

Gujarat is the home State of both Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP chief Amit Shah and the stakes are high. Both are putting all their efforts to retain the State and overcome the anti-incumbency.

With hardly a few months left for the polls, the BJP is using all its tricks to win the State and the Congress has fallen into its trap by neglecting the organisational interests. Ahmed Patel might scrape through if he is lucky, but things are not looking good for the Congress, overall.

(The writer is a senior political commentator and syndicated columnist)

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