Congress in disarray: On Gujarat Rajya Sabha elections

More than three decades after it last won an outright majority in the Assembly election in Gujarat, the Congress was tipped by many to make 2017 a breakthrough year in the State. Its rival, the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, no longer boasts a strong regional leader: Narendra Modi moved over as Prime Minister, and his successors, Anandiben Patel and Vijay Rupani, have not managed to step out of his shadow. Also, after five consecutive victories, the anti-incumbency factor hangs heavily over the BJP. But, as before, the Congress does not seem to have the stomach for a head-to-head fight with the BJP in Mr. Modi’s home ground. The first hints of a crisis began innocuously enough: with the Congress Leader of the Opposition in the State, Shankersinh Vaghela, unfollowing party vice-president Rahul Gandhi and senior leader Ahmed Patel on Twitter. What looked like a pressure tactic to earn nomination as the Congress’s chief ministerial candidate soon turned into open defiance, and eventually ended in a parting of ways. Mr. Vaghela, who joined the Congress in 1998 after deserting the BJP in 1996, seems to have resented the influence wielded by Mr. Patel, a confidant of the Nehru-Gandhi family, within the Congress organisational structure. Once he quit the Congress, the stage was set for an open revolt when Mr. Patel was re-nominated for a Rajya Sabha seat from Gujarat. As six members of the legislature deserted the party, the Congress was in panic mode. In normal circumstances a party in the opposition would not be alarmed at the switching of sides by a few MLAs. But the Congress, which lays great store by Mr. Patel’s backroom manoeuvring skills, evidently thinks it cannot afford to see him defeated, and flew the remaining 44 MLAs to Karnataka. Whether or not the Congress managed to portray the BJP as a party poaching on its MLAs, it sent out the message that its MLAs are susceptible to offers, in whatever form, from the other side.

But beyond the election of Mr. Patel, what should worry the Congress is the longer-term impact of the desertion from its ranks. With the Assembly election due by the end of the year, the party needs to galvanise its cadres and functionaries. But over the years, Mr. Modi seems to have succeeded in portraying a cloak of invincibility; he is now a larger-than-life figure in Gujarat, after having served as Chief Minister for a record 12 consecutive years. Long periods out of power can breed a sense of helplessness and inability in a party. In looking too closely at the here-and-now of the Rajya Sabha election, and not enough at the big picture of the approaching Assembly election, the Congress seems to have missed a trick in Gujarat.

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Printable version | Apr 15, 2021 7:14:47 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/editorial/congress-in-disarray/article19391730.ece

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