Inside story of BJP’s fight against Ahmed Patel and its impact on national politics
During the climactic phase of the 2014 general elections, Modi had given an interview which raised the hackles in the Congress.
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The Bharatiya Janata Party's epic contest against Congress veteran leader Ahmed Patel in the Rajya Sabha elections from Gujarat has ended with the BJP at the receiving end for a change, but the inside story and the event's repercussions on national politics have not been decoded thus far.
Here is my take of the breathtaking cloak-and-dagger kind of politics in the Ahmed Patel episode.
Let me start with a teaser! Actually, in the BJP’s scheme of things Ahmed Patel is the Trojan Horse for the Narendra Modi-Amit Shah duo in the Congress camp - at least from their perspective. Read on.
The BJP didn’t go an extra mile in its attempt to ensure that the Congress veteran leader is not re-elected to the Rajya Sabha. It went a light year ahead in this failed attempt. But actually it was meant to be like that - a failed attempt.
After all, the two Congress MLAs who showed their anti-Patel vote to the BJP polling agent were not unaware of the consequences of their action and there was method in their madness, as instructed by their BJP handlers.
Yes, it was a covert operation of the Modi-Shah combine and the mission objective was to first make it impossible for Patel to win but then eventually help him win after making him sweat it out and take the contest down to the wire.
The Ahmed Patel Rajya Sabha contest saga is a veritable political potboiler, fit for a screen adaptation by Bollywood. The USP of this episode for Bollywood is that this particular theme and the wheels-within-wheels kind of political plot is still untried and therefore a novelty.
Here is a decoding of what happened in the Rajya Sabha contest saga.
During the climactic phase of the 2014 general elections, Modi had given an interview in early May 2014 which raised the hackles in the then Congress. Among many other controversial things, this Modi interview talked about Ahmed Patel.
Sample the following quote: “Let me inform you that I have a lot of close friends in the Congress party and Ahmed Patel is one of them. Maybe he is not that close anymore, I do not know what problem he has now because he seems to avoid me... I used to go to his place and share meals with him. We were good friends, and I personally do not see why we should not have had such a relationship. Also we never called him Ahmed Bhai, we called him 'Bhaubhai'. This is not known to many people outside, but we have always referred to him as 'Bhaubhai' and treated him that way.”
The reaction in Congress’ top circles as a result of this interview was of awe and dismay, and the tide inevitably turned against Ahmed Patel.
In this election, the biggest loser has been Shankersinh Vaghela. Photo: India Today
Rahul Gandhi, who as Congress vice-president was taking Modi head on, formed his conclusions and harboured a low opinion of Patel, his mother Sonia Gandhi's long-time confidante and political secretary.
Since then, the graph of Patel plummeted in Rahul's scheme of things. The just-concluded election of Ahmed Patel was actually aimed at helping Patel win back his lost credibility within the Congress.
In other words, Ahmed Patel is the BJP’s Trojan Horse in the Congress - or that’s the subtle message being given by the Modi- Shah duo here in the context of the high-profile Rajya Sabha election.
Yes, the Ahmed Patel contest went down to the wire and this Rajya Sabha seat election acquired the fame of an American presidential election. But that’s how it was choreographed by the BJP!
By leaving him ostensibly no escape route, the BJP wanted to show to Patel, and through him to the Congress, that Patel was an enemy, not a friend. Suddenly, Patel acquired the halo of the most important Congress leader, a kind of image of Patel that the BJP wanted to project.
If Patel had lost, which was a high probability, then it would have been an icing on the cake for the BJP as it would have come as a major political gain months ahead of the Gujarat Assembly polls due by this year-end. And if Patel were to win, it would have still meant a victory in defeat for the BJP as it would inevitably raise Patel's profile in the Sonia camp.
Insiders say that West Bengal chief minister and Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee phoned Rahul Gandhi and told him that she was willing to let Patel contest the Rajya Sabha election from West Bengal where his victory was sure shot. But Rahul declined her offer and told Banerjee that if Patel were to fight from Bengal it would have a demoralising impact on Congress workers in poll-bound Gujarat.
Rahul's message was clear: that if Patel were to enter the Rajya Sabha, the only route for him was Gujarat. In other words, Rahul was prepared to expend Patel for whom he still has no love lost.
If the BJP was really keen on preventing Ahmed Patel from entering the Rajya Sabha for the third time then it would have fielded a political heavyweight like Shankersinh Vaghela, a former Congressman, against him. Actually, in this election, the biggest loser has been Vaghela who has ended up being neither here nor there.
The lone Janata Dal (United) MLA Chhotu Vasava's vote for Patel proved to be the game-changer. Vasava is an old time ardent follower of Sharad Yadav. His part of the deal was that his benefactor Sharad Yadav will be the UPA's convener ahead of the 2019 elections!
Now here is the final part. Patel’s victory will prove to be inconsequential as the era of the Sonia Gandhi Congress is coming to a close. Rahul is expected to take over as the Congress president by this year end, perhaps October. And in the Rahul Gandhi Congress, Ahmed Patel will have no role.