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The Gujarat Bout

The Gujarat Bout

By the time you read this, the result of the fierce political fight in Gujarat to defeat Ahmed Patel would be known. Most people would not have realised the significance of the result as the victory/defeat of Patel may look like personal win/loss of face for him and his boss.

Patel has been Congress President Sonia Gandhi’s Political Secretary since 2001. The veteran Congress leader entered parliamentary politics by withstanding the Janata Party wave of 1977, representing Bahruch in the Lok Sabha. He has been a MP of the Lower House thrice and the Rajya Sabha four times already.

His re-election was supposed to be a foregone conclusion till Shankersinh Vaghela walked out of the Congress. All of a sudden, Patel’s re-election became uncertain as Vaghela’s supporters started resigning their MLA posts. Since a Rajya Sabha member is elected by MLAs, it looked like Patel would not secure enough votes to win another term to the RS.

On the face, that may have seemed like a miscalculation the Congress made. One could say that Vaghela should have been placated by declaring him the Chief Ministerial candidate of the Congress for the December assembly elections.

However, those in the know say that Vaghela was pressured by those who control the levers of power to quit and float an outfit if he wanted to avoid the CBI from probing allegations of corruption related to his stint in the Union Textile Ministry during the UPA regime.

While it’s true that Vaghela nursed a grudge against Congress Vice-president Rahul Gandhi, he had a perfect understanding with Patel and would not have scuttled his re-election. What would be known on August 8 is if this understanding survived the threats and the allurements offered to Gujarat Congress MLAs by the powers that be to defeat Patel.

The Congress, for once, was not taking it easy. Unlike when BJP outmanoeuvred it in Goa and Manipur to form governments despite the former failing to win the people’s mandate in the elections, the Congress suddenly raised the level of its game to thwart the BJP’s attempt to defeat Patel. It demonstrated how combative this low-profile politician is and why he is the most important Congress leader.

Those opposed to Patel’s re-election have employed the services of a mega corporate from Gujarat — that meteorically rose to prominence during Narendra Modi’s efficient tenure as Chief Minister — to doubly ensure that those who would not yield to threats could be allured with wealth. However, their plans went awry when Patel managed to rope in an even bigger corporate group from the same state that became a huge entity during the tenure of Pranab Mukherjee as Finance Minister in the early 1980s.

Obviously, the corporate biggie that has sided with Patel knows well that its gesture is unlikely to go down well with the powers that be. It could hit its business interest in future. However, the biggie has enough reasons to be peeved with the powers that be for favouring the rival from its state. Hence, its determination to make sure that Patel is re-elected is an attempt to demonstrate to the powers that be it has the clout to turn the tables, if need be, in 2019.

While the media has focussed on the income-tax raids on a Karnataka minister ‘shepherding’ the Gujarat MLAs at a Bengaluru resort, the drama continues to unfold too close to the deadline for this column. However, one thing that can be said for certain: If Patel manages to pull off a win despite all odds, it will be more than a Rajya Sabha seat or a moral victory for the Congress and larger Opposition. It will send the signal to the powers that be that 2019 will be no walkover. The clear message would be that the Opposition too has corporate sponsors who are willing to place their eggs in more than one basket while paying gratitude for benefits obtained in the past.

Phulpur Idea

Phulpur in Uttar Pradesh first shot to fame when Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru represented the Lok Sabha constituency. It may soon become famous again.

Nehru’s erstwhile seat is represented in the Lok Sabha by K P Maurya of the BJP. He is the Deputy Chief Minister in the Aditya Nath Ministry in Uttar Pradesh and will have to resign this Lok Sabha seat and get elected to either of the House in the bicameral UP legislature before the end of September to continue as a minister in UP.

If that were to happen (Maurya can also be re-inducted into the Central ministry to avoid a by-poll) Phulpur will see a Lok Sabha by-election. Such a possibility has evoked interest in national political circles following the resignation of Bahujan Samaj Party President from the Rajya Sabha recently.

While quitting, Mayawati alleged that her voice was being supressed by the Government while she was trying to highlight atrocities committed against Dalits. Cynics pointed out that Mayawati was looking for ‘martyrdom’ as her RS term was coming to an end and had no chance of returning as her party did not enough MLAs in UP to ensure her re-election. However, Rashtriya Janata Dal leader Lalu Prasad countered this narrative by offering her a Rajya Sabha seat from Bihar.

The speculation doing the rounds is that Mayawati could field herself as the joint Opposition candidate in Phulpur. A nervous BJP has confirmed that the speculation was right by planting reports in the media that Mayawati would not take such a risk of contesting a seat that Maurya won in 2014 by securing more than 52% of the total votes polled.

However, it may be interesting to note that the BJP’s percentage slid by around 10 percentage points in the assembly polls held a few months ago. Add to this fact that Phulpur has a high percentage of Dalit voters and the Samajwadi Party and the Congress could lend support to BSP if Mayawati is the candidate.

Students of electoral politics would tell you that Sharad Yadav thus fielded by Jayaprakash Narayan for a by-election in Madhya Pradesh’s Jabalpur in 1974 won the seat giving the impetus to the JP Movement before Indira Gandhi clamped Emergency. Fourteen years after Jabalpur, the then joint Opposition fighting Indira’s son on the Bofors kickbacks did the same by fielding V P Singh in Allahabad, after Amitabh Bachchan vacated the seat when he fled politics after coming under personal attacks.

The only question is whether Mayawati would stand up to the threats and allurements and follow the path taken by Yadav and Singh or succumb to pressure an yield like Nitish Kumar.

(abey.kay@gmail.com)

(Published on 07th August 2017, Volume XXIX, Issue 32)