On 8th August, 2017, Congress moved mountains, figuratively and MLAs, literally, to save Ahmed Patel’s Rajya Sabha seat. In the bargain, Congress let Gujaratis die as flood inundated the state.
Three Rajya Sabha seats were up for reelection in Gujarat and it had 4 contenders. One of the seats was of Ahmed Patel.
Gujarat was seeing Rajya Sabha elections for the first time since 1996 as they were always uncontested. Other two seats up for grabs were being contested by Amit Shah and Smriti Irani of the BJP, both heavyweights in their own way. Their victory was almost certain. BJP has fielded Balwantsinh Rajput, former Chief Whip of Gujarat Congress in assembly against Ahmed Patel.
Ahmed Patel was then a 7 time MP from Gujarat (3 times Lok Sabha and 4 times Rajya Sabha) and also the political adviser to Congress President Sonia Gandhi. By first week of August it was clear that Congress was a sinking ship in Gujarat. Patel needed 45 votes to retain his seat. Gujarat Congress originally had 57 MLAs. Of these, by 1st August, 6 had resigned and joined the BJP. It was a close call.
So what does Congress do? The oldest trick in the book. Kidnap the MLAs, take them to a luxury resort till voting day to stop them from ‘crossing over’ to the BJP. Except, when the Congress MLAs were enjoying buffet breakfasts, Gujarat was inundated with floods, one of the worst in a decade. Banaskantha’s Dhanera was one of the worst affected areas in the floods. Their Congress MLA, Joitabhai Patel, was one of the 44 MLAs vacationing in then Congress-ruled Bangalore.
When the citizens needed their elected leaders in time of natural calamity, their leaders were not reachable because their phones were switched off. In fact, special chef was arranged for the Gujarat Congress MLAs as their constituencies struggled with rescue operations.
The high-octane elections continued post-midnight and the drama was no less than a Bollywood potboiler. Congress had put all money and muscle power to save that one Rajya Sabha seat. Patel won, but Congress lost Gujarat in the bargain.
This when the state was going into assembly elections just few months down the line. BJP was facing almost 20 years’ anti-incumbency. A generation of voters had grown up in a non-Congress ruled Gujarat. In these twenty years, Gujarat has seen an earthquake, burning up of train compartment full of karsevaks followed by riots and alleged fake encounters. But then, Gujarat has also witnessed rise in foreign investment, construction of Narmada canal spider network and better power and water connectivity.
But did Congress do all this just for Ahmed Patel? No. It was to save Sonia Gandhi’s face. Ahmed Patel’s loss would mean Sonia Gandhi’s loss. BJP was going all out to make it sure that the defeat is seen as a ‘blow to Sonia Gandhi’. A revenge for all the “Blow to Modi” headlines that Ahmed Patel is believed to have managed when Congress ruled. And Congress was going all out to save Patel and in turn save Sonia’s face.
For a party that has gambled the entire nation over the years, gambling Gujarat to save Sonia did not come as much of a surprise.
71-year old Ahmed Patel passed away earlier today following multiple organ failures due to coronavirus. He was being probed in multiple UPA-era scams. And for Congress, it is left with riot-convict and sedition accused Hardik Patel as party chief in Gujarat.