Gleanings From Gandhinagar -- You Can Outsmart Modi-Shah By Being Smarter, Sharper, Swifter Than Them

Raman Swamy

Polling day in Gujarat on Tuesday was more exciting and educative than anyone could have ever anticipated.  Everybody knew in advance that Ahmed Patel’s bid for re-election to the Rajya Sabha would witness high drama and low politics. 

But none could have guessed that the day after Raksha Bandan would turn out to be such a gruelling test of loyalty, integrity, credibility and resourcefulness of so many individuals and institutions. 

By the time the results were announced – after more than eight hours of nerve-wracking suspense and tension, big time pressure tactics both in the counting centre in Gandhinagar and the Nirvachan Sadan headquaters of the Election Commission in the national capital – much more was at stake than just a question whether the Congress candidate would win or lose. 

With each passing hour, the actual outcome of the election seemed to matter less than the grueling process that exposed the dark side of the democratic system and the appalling amorality of present day politics.

In the end there were many losers and many winners.  Reputations were dented.  Several active participants on the sordid daylong saga on the losing side lost more than just an election – they lost something intangible and valuable:  their brash self-confidence. 

A few unlikely heroes emerged – men who, for whatever reasons, displayed courage in the face of tremendous pressures and presumably even threats, and did the right thing at a time when lesser men would have succumbed. 

This counts for a lot in an era which many have described as the onset of kaliyug when the forces of evil have the upper hand.

At the individual level, the role played by three hitherto unsung MLAs was what tilted the scales in favour of Ahmed Patel and ruined the carefully-laid and viciously executed plans of BJP heavyweight Amit Shah. 

They are Chhotu Vasava, Jayant Patel and Nalin Kotadiya and their names are worthy of being mentioned in dispatches.

Chhotubhai Vasava is the lone Janata Dal (United) MLA who defied the dictat of his powerful party bosses, recent turncoats themselves, to vote for the BJP.  He withstood the onslaught of blatant media disinformation and excruciating arm-twisting from Delhi and Patna and voted with his conscience for what he later called described as “my country and my party’s original ideology”.  

It is a small detail that may not mean much in the context but Vasava is a rugged 70-year-old tribal leader whose lifelong dream has been to fight for a separate adivasi State of Bhilistan, carved out of tribal dominated areas of Gujarat, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra.

Jayantbhai Ramanbhai Patel is the Nationalist Congress Party legislator who obeyed the instructions of his powerful party boss Sharad Pawar and voted for Ahmed Patel.  Known by the nickname Boskey, the 50-year-old Gujarat NCP party president is a feisty personality who never shies away from a fight.  He backed Ahmed Patel, he said, because the “party Whip is clear, we are UPA partners and I am not after money”.

Nalin Kotadiya is a follower of former chief minister Keshubhai Patel who was never reconciled to the Gujarat Parivartan Party’s merger into the BJP.  Kotadiya was expelled from the BJP two years ago for supporting the Patidar Patel uprising.  He too backed Ahmed Patel, because, as he said: “Seeing the pain of the young people who were killed by police during the Patidar agitation, I voted against the BJP”. 

These are the individual MLAs who tilted the scales.   At the institutional level, it was the Election Commission of India which took the fateful decision to uphold the Congress complaint against two defectors and invalidated their votes. 

Very few had expected the Commission to take the decision it finally did.   It is a scandal in itself that half a dozen top Cabinet Ministers went personally to the Nirvachan Sadan to influence the Election Commissioners. 

Their justification is that the Congress too had sent its bigwigs and heavyweights, conveniently forgetting that it is the BJP which is in power and not the Congress. 

That apart the credibility and impartiality of the Commission has been under a cloud in recent years.   As all were acutely aware, Chief Election Commissioner Achal Kumar Joti was an I.A.S. officer of 1975 batch from Gujarat Cadre and had been Gujarat chief secretary when Narendra Modi was the chief minister.  In Indian politics, this implies much more than it said overtly.

Election Commissioner Om Prakash Rawat assumed charge two years ago and was a retired IAS officer of Madhya Pradesh cadre, where the BJP under Shivraj Chauhan has been in power for several terms.  In the context of today’s kal-yug politics, this too could mean a lot.

But the verdict was based on the evidence of the video of the voting and precedent of earlier Supreme Court rulings.   Even the formidable pressures exerted by the country’s Law Minister and the all-powerful Finance-cum-Defence Minister failed to overawe Achal Joti and OP Rawat. 

It is not surprising that Congress president Sonia Gandhi evocative reaction to the result of the Rajya Sabha election was:  “Thank god for the Election Commission”.   It is little wonder that Ahmed Patel himself said virtually the same thing at an altogether different plane:  “Satyamev Jajate”.

It needs to be said, however, that only the very naïve of analysts would read too much into eventual outcome of the epic, fiercely-fought battle for the lone Rajya Sabha seat which resulted in Ahmed Patel’s re-election against all odds.

Only the very partisan of citizens would view it as a triumph of Good over Evil.  Neither of the two sides has claim over righteousness.  The harsh reality is that this is Kali Yug, the age of vice.  

All that happened on the night of Tuesday-Wednesday, the proverbial witching hour,   is that one side outsmarted the other in a contest where money and muscle power mattered more than morals.

For the BJP under the Modi-Shah duo it is undoubtedly a rude realization that bullies don’t always get their way – and that Bharat is still far from being Congress-mukt.       

For the Congress, it provides a glimmer of hope.  The message is crystal clear - Modi and Shah are not invincible. 

Even when they use their entire arsenal of tricks and tactics. Even when they order tax raids for three days running, deploy cabinet ministers to browbeat constitutional authorities, manipulate the mainstream media openly and brazenly, spread disinformation on the social media and by word of mouth, engineer defections, split parties, issue veiled threats, et al.  

To combat and counter all this, takes some doing.  It calls for some smart footwork (herding vulnerable MLAs to quarantine in Bangalore), some effective counter-propaganda (hyping up the stone-pelting incident against Rahul Gandhi), and quick co-ordination with party bosses in Delhi (sending battalions of brainy seniors to the Election Commission), eternal vigil on potential stragglers, quick reflexes to rapidly respond to every twist and turn even at the ungodly hour of midnight.

The Congress did what needed to be done.  All the leaders of the grand old party came out of hibernation and rushed to aid of the beleaguered Rajya Sabha candidate. 

The wily politicians, the legal eagles, the spin doctors and the foot soldiers were wide awake and on call -- in Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore, Cochin and Coimbatore monitoring the unfolding drama in Gandhinagar on TV screens, I-phones and WhatsApp.  They shared ideas and swung into action at a moment’s notice when required – especially during the extraordinary siege at Nirvachan Sadan. 

That is how Modi and Shah were vanquished – on their home turf.  That is why Ahmed Patel won. 

For the first time in three years, probably more, the Congress leadership functioned like a well-oiled machine.  They were sharper, swifter and smarter than the crisis managers of the BJP.

Aug 10, 2017

Raman Swamy [email protected]

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