Ahem… Patel!

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While the ordinary citizen had been wondering for about a month how the fuss over a seat in the Rajya Sabha would impact their lives, some supposed master strategists of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party left no stone unturned to ensure that UPA chairperson and Congress president Sonia Gandhi’s man Friday Ahmed Patel would fail in his attempt to enter the Upper House for the first time. Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP president Amit Shah — or whoever the strategy could be attributed to — failed in this endeavour. The slimness of the margin of Patel’s victory is as inconsequential as the arithmetic of one-fourth of the strength of the Gujarat Assembly that should have had confidence in the candidate, a calculation about which the average man on the street was once again amused. No doubt, Patel has been accused of being the mastermind behind many of Nehru-Gandhi dynasty’s shenanigans, and cutting him to size would have added another feather to the cap of the battle-hardened Shah, whose boss dreams — rightly or wrongly — of a Congress-mukt Bharat. But when the odds of achieving the tactical feat were stacked so precariously in favour or against either side, the gambit of the BJP should not have been so obvious, so prolonged and so desperate. The desperation has now acquired such ridiculous proportions that the BJP is approaching the Supreme Court to complain against the Election Commission’s decision to disqualify the votes of two of Indian National Congress’s Members of the Gujarat Legislative Assembly. Imagine the further loss of face in the event of a snub by the apex court!

Whether the votes of 4, and not 2, MLAs should have been declared null and void is immaterial when politics is all about the image of the leader who is perceived to have sanctioned this typical backstage war of indirect democracy. When the prime minister of the country is remarkably leading an apparently corruption-free government; when the market is soaring with faith in his economics; when the popularity ratings of the premier defies history as his honeymoon period refuses to end, it was, by no stretch of anybody’s imagination, worthwhile to put his name on stake for a puerile game of one-upmanship. More so after a spate of well-deserved electoral victories. At best, a trick or two at the eleventh hour, followed by a quick retreat without anybody noticing the act, would have saved the day for the BJP. A receding INC had less to lose. However, having noticed the anxiety and zeal with which the BJP was participating in this game, it pulled out all the stops — including the hilarious deed of whisking away its 44 MLAs to the resort of an allegedly dubious Karnataka minister — to seal the fate of the election in Patel’s favour. Who knows, even the duo whose votes were finally invalidated might have double-crossed the ruling party that proved too clever by half in the final bargain. The victories of Shah and Smriti Irani in these polls were not news; that Patel eventually made it was!

Characters like the honchos of Indian cricket management until recently, the Dawood Ibrahim-supported film personalities of the 1990s, political go-betweens like Ahmed Patel, etc are territorial animals. If there is one thing in life they have mastered, it is how to guard one’s turf. Unless one is cocksure of the success of a strategy of razing their bastions, one must not enter their fray. Such mean brains still elude the BJP, which has not learnt the ropes after 6 years of Atal Bihari Vajpayee and 3 years of Narendra Modi. The INC can still give the BJP a lesson or two in realpolitik. Patel is one of the cases in point.

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