The recently held election for Rajya Sabha seats from Gujarat had people glued to the television throughout the day of election and counting. Social media was abuzz with speculation. The election became so crucial for both the ruling BJP and the leading opposition Congress party. Amidst twists and turns Congress leader Ahmed Patel eventually won the third seat. BJP president Amit Shah and Union Minister Smriti Irani won the other two seats comfortably, which was expected.
Anju Grover for Indian Currents spoke to senior Congress leader, Tom Vadakkan on Gujarat Rajya sabha election and its implications. Vadakkan concedes that the opposition parties will remain united despite the BJP’s allurements, threats, misuse of agencies.
IC: Is the high voltage drama before Ahmed Patel's re-entry into the Rajya Sabha a trailer of the future electoral battles between the ruling BJP and the opposition parties?
Tom Vadakkan: It is just the beginning of what is going to happen. The gimmicks, muscle and money power used in the RS polls stands exposed. The opposition parties have realised that the ruling dispensation will bend all rules to get extra seat and they will go to any length. This will cement unity that has never been seen before. In fact, the exit of Nitish Kumar which we thought would damage the grand alliance has turned out to be a blessing. The JDU stands disunited. The forward movement is visible. The opposition parties will decide future strategy to deal with the ruling coalition.
IC: What does it mean for the Congress party now that Ahmed Patel has won the RS seat yet again?
The objective was essentially aimed at the forthcoming legislative assembly elections in Gujarat. It was like a game of chess. If our leader was defeated, it would have had a far reaching message to the rank and file. So it was important for them to defeat Ahmed Patel in his own ground. But that misfired. This has given us an advantage which was not anticipated by them. His victory has sent out a strong message to the electorate that exit routes are still available for the ruling party.
IC: The recently held elections of the President and Vice President and Bihar developments proved that Modi-Shah jodi was unbeatable and the opposition parties were decimated. But Patel's victory has proved them wrong. Your comments on Modi-Shah politics.
The Modi-Shah combine has tried everything in the rule book to derail democratic practices. They had planned to split the Congress party in the state which they did it successfully. There was a divine intervention for the idea of India and we did not conspire.
IC: Shankar Singh Vaghela who quit Congress party, has accused the Congress party of conspiracy stating that Ahmed Patel won the RS seat through a well thought out conspiracy scripted by party leaders. Vaghela also stated that that if the Congress had not taken 44 MLAs to Bengaluru then around 25 would have resigned.
We have protected our MLAs from these vultures. It would have been a sad day if we did not have common sense to move our MLAs and prevented them from succumbing to the threats from the police and district administration. These MLAs themselves stated it in the press conference in Gandhi Nagar.
IC: Vaghela called it a conspiracy and you say that it was a common sense...
We call it survival instinct.
IC: The RS polls witnessed interesting issues ranging from the scourge of horse-trading to the operation of the anti-defection law, the power and role of the EC and secrecy of the ballot etc. your comments.
All attempts were made to circumvent all norms of democracy. The malpractices and its practioners tried to ensure derailment of democracy in the RS polls. Institutions were misused. Agencies like the CBI and Income Tax were misused.
IC: Vaghela has expressed his reservations over the Election Commision's decision to invalidate the votes of two MLAs. It happened after the Congress lodged a complaint with the EC.
The Election Commission stood by the rule book. We are proud of the EC. We believe they will continue to play playing that role in the interest of democracy.
IC: As regard to the Gujarat Congress, it is a fact now that all is not well within the Gujarat Congress. So why blame outsiders?
Every political party has problems especially if you have carnivores roaming around, waiting to prey...files have been built on each MLA of the Congress party. These MLAs are under threat from every front. This planning has been going on for some time. The MLAs were offered Rs 15 crore rupees. Some MLAs have fallen prey. The moral strength of our unit has proved the test of time.
IC: How will you check dissent in the Gujarat Congress and prevent people from leaving Congress and joining the BJP which is expanding state by state. Now that the elections in Gujarat are couple of months away, do you think Congress needs surgical operation to deal with the dissention in the Gujarat unit?
We will take steps to ensure that loyalty plays a major role in selection of candidates. Those who stood by the party will be rewarded.
IC: What are the lessons learnt by the Congress and the opposition parties from RS polls, and what will be your strategy for Gujarat elections and 2019?
India's democracy has to be preserved. The Congress, as the leading opposition party, has a role in the democratic system. The Congress's strategies will differ from state to state. We will ensure that unity is of prime importance. People with credibility and integrity will be inducted. We will ensure that all political parties stand united although our ideologies may be different. We will stand for ideology of unity, democracy, credibility and public acceptance. It will get reflected in planning as well.(Published on 14th August 2017, Volume XXIX, Issue 33)