For a few crazed hours this week, India’s eyes and ears were on Ahmedabad, where a dramatic script was getting written, almost like a suspense-filled plot line of a Bollywood potboiler. At stake was a Rajya Sabha seat. That’s it! One seat. But what a seat it was! Fighting tooth and nail over it, was Sonia Gandhi’s trusted lieutenant, Ahmed Patel — long known in Delhi camps as the man who definitely has Mrs Gandhi’s ear... but definitely not her son Rahul’s. Had Ahmed Patel not scraped through, there would have been a gigantic omelette all over the Congress’ face, and Mrs Gandhi’s current vulnerable position would have taken one more really hard punch in the gut. In fact, so much was riding on Mr Patel winning/losing, it was being said his loss would have signalled the end of Mrs Gandhi’s unchallenged supremacy within the party. And where would that loss have left Rahul Baba? Out in the political wilderness, waiting for someone to rescue him from the jaws of hungry cannibals. What a position to be in.
All that is now in the past. Mr Patel’s prestige has been salvaged, along with his pride, and Madam’s izzat is intact for now. Amit Bhai’s reputation as an unbeatable strategist is somewhat dented. But come on... how thin is anybody’s skin when the game is this hot? Besides, Mr Shah sailed through his own election, as did the other Narendra Modi favourite, Smriti Irani. With the Gujarat elections scheduled for 2018, nothing much is likely to change — the BJP will chew up whatever is left of the tattered Opposition. If they manage to bag the biggest player of all time — Sharad Pawar — then we can all go home quietly and wait for the next 20 years for a shift in power. What I fail to understand is why this one-seat victory is being described as a “relief” for the Congress Party? The poor party needs more than a symbolic seat to stay relevant. Despite the absurdity of it all, I started receiving dozens of WhatsApp messages from Congress supporters within seconds of Mr Patel being deemed the victor in this battle. A battle that actually saw just one real hero — the Election Commission.
And even that hero’s behind-the-scenes alleged sucking up to the BJP is sounding pretty shabby. The touch-and-go drama that had gone on for a fortnight would have been further prolonged had the EC not stepped in. It had to! What does Mr Patel’s presence in the Rajya Sabha mean in real terms? Very little. It keeps the myth of Mrs Gandhi’s clout alive. Had he lost, it’s entirely possible that the Rahul Gandhi fan club within the Congress Party would have been secretly thrilled. For too long, Mrs G has remained aloof and inaccessible to the Rahul hangers-on. For too long, Mr Gandhi has been forced to play “pretend” with Mr Patel, a man with whom Mr Gandhi shares zero rapport. But since Mr Gandhi has managed to keep the doddering Congress show on the road for whatever its worth, and Mrs Gandhi has been deliberately taking a backseat (health issues), Mr Patel does indeed have a role to play, looking ahead. He is Mrs Gandhi’s chosen one to manage tricky party matters (money!) and plan for the future. Mr Patel’s reputation as a super-efficient manager was at stake in the sensitive Ahmedabad imbroglio. It was Mr Patel’s shrewd brain versus Mr Shah’s cunning moves. Right now, it’s advantage Patel. But for how long?
The thing is, as of now, there is absolutely nobody left standing on the political battlefield to challenge the BJP chariot. When you speak to Dilliwallas about this lop-sided situation, they say bluntly it is Mrs Gandhi alone who represents the Opposition. She is a one-woman army. No Mrs Gandhi, no Congress, no Opposition. Within the Congress, it is blasphemous to talk of the party leadership changing gear and the reins being handed over to anybody other than Mr Gandhi. There are quite a few smarty pants in the party, but political analysts believe if it can’t be Mr Gandhi, it has to be Priyanka Gandhi Vadra. That’s it. Nobody else stands a chance. Party workers see the Gandhis alone as their maa-baap. By the time the Congress manages to get its act together, a decade may pass by. A critical decade in which the very future of India will be at stake. The next election in 2019 is as good as a done deal. But then again, political parties the world over follow a pattern — rise, fall and rise again.
Unfortunately, one and a half generations of Indians will be governed by the BJP, unless of course, extraordinary and entirely unexpected developments take place at some point. Those voters who will be eligible to participate in the 2019 elections may know very little about India’s history, beyond the past five years. And even that account of history may be distorted, doctored and misleading. Who is there to correct misconceptions? Where are the intellectual stalwarts who could guide the young to make the right decisions? Where will citizens get their information from when virtually every media platform is controlled, watched, punished, penalised? Sigh! What a difference a seat makes! A tiny little band-aid covers the Congress’ disintegration. What an irony! Now it all depends on Sharad Pawar and which party gets the big man into the kitty.