Times change. For four term Rajya Sabha member, Ahmed Patel, a political advisor to AICC President Sonia Gandhi, getting elected to the upper house was a cake walk. Until this fifth time. This time, Patel, undoubtedly one of the most powerful politicians in the Congress pantheon, after the 'family' is locked in almost a life or death battle with his fate to be decided today (Tuesday), the date the Gujarat Vidhan Sabha votes to elect three of four members in the fray.
BJP national president, who seeks to switch from the Gujarat Assembly to the Upper House and Union Textile Minister Smriti Irani are a certainty. In normal circumstances, so would have Ahmed Patel been. Until Shankersinh Vaghela, leader of the Congress opposition quit his post and announced that he would be quitting the party after casting his vote in the Rajya Sabha elections.
Though Patel, this time, is a victim of his own politics. He and his party both seem to have miscalculated on two fronts. Firstly, well aware of Shankersinh Vaghela's past record, they took his influence within the Congress too lightly. He had pulled down two BJP chief ministers - Keshubhai Patel and Suresh Mehta, in the first ever BJP government in Gujarat in 1995-96.
Secondly, too busy in their intriguing and petty politicking, the Congress walked into a trap laid by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his loyal chief of operations, Amit Shah. What could be a bigger top grosser political 'coup' than scalping the head honcho political advisor of the Congress Chief Sonia Gandhi? It would be a national political coup d'etat! A morale booster for the BJP and humiliating for the Congress.
Corroborative evidence of the BJP resolve to go all out, lies in forcing the Congress to flee the state with their legislators in the face of rampant poaching with six of their legislators quitting soon after Ahmed Patel filed his nomination for the Rajya Sabha.
Three of the six joined the BJP and the party's chief whip in the Vidhan Sabha, Balwantsinh Rajput is the third nominee of the BJP whose candidature is meant to upset Patel's applecart. Even after the Gujarat Congress legislators moved to the safe haven of their own government in Karnataka, they were pursued by the Modi government which used central forces to conduct I-T raids on the Karnataka minister who was looking after the Gujarat Congress flock. The intention was clear. The Modi government was in no mood to relent.
Modi-Shah combination, both being of Gujarati origin, are extremely well versed with the political scenario of the state. The two also knew of the faction fighting within the Gujarat Congress. Most of its top line leaders, Arjun Modvadia, Shaktisinh Gohil, Sidhartha Patel, son of former chief minister Chimanbhai Patel, have at some time or the other failed to win their own seats during the almost 13-year long rule of chief minister Modi.
Even Bharatsinh Solanki, the current Gujarat Congress chief, son of former Congress chief minister Madhavsinh Solanki does not enjoy half the popular esteem of his father, in whose name stand the record of bagging 149 of the total 182 seats in the Gujarat Assembly in 1985. Modi could not break this record and has in the 2017 election set his party a target of bagging 150 seats.
Aware of the fact that the Gujarat Congress leaders were wary of Vaghela, the BJP leaders sought to widen the distrust. They were well aware that Vaghela who hailed from the RSS stable, was not only aware of their internal functioning but also had a popular base that could cause them great trouble in the forthcoming Assembly elections later this year. Modi does not trust Vaghela and vice versa.
While Modi used Gujarat to build a power base that propelled him to helm the country, the charge against Ahmed Patel has been that he never allowed strong leaders to grow in his home state in his own party.
It is no wonder that Congress last won an election in Gujarat over a quarter century ago-33 years to be precise (1985). For the reminder, it sought to come to power in the state through the back door, supporting a Chimanbhai Patel led Janata Dal-Gujarat government in 1990 and a Vaghela led government in 1996.
For all the outward bonhomie, Patel has never been comfortable with Vaghela. It was he who played a major role in weaning away Madhusudan Mistry, a Vaghela follower and building him in the party hierarchy in Delhi. The sidelining of Vaghela who sought a role similar to Amarinder Singh in an election-bound Punjab and the High Command's continuous ignoring, allegedly under Patel's influence, led to a situation where Vaghela walked out in a huff.
The Gujarat Congress leadership chose to reassure their national leadership that his departure would not cause much damage, only to come a cropper. As the situation stands Ahmed Patel requires 46 votes to win. The Congress flock now stands reduced from 57 to 51.
It has the professed support of two NCP and one JD-U legislator. Interestingly, the 51 includes Shankersinh Vaghela and his son Mahendrasinh besides other legislators owing allegiance to Vaghela.
Though the Congress leadership has expressed optimism that Patel will win, the crowning irony is that his fate now rests in the hands of Vaghela who may yet bail him out, if he so chooses. It is in this context that his statement that Bapus (as he is popularly known) never retire, acquires added significance.
Besides the national ramifications of Ahmed Patel's election result, it will also set the trend for the Gujarat Vidhan Sabha elections to follow in November-December 2017. The situation in the poll bound state could not have been better tailored for the Congress opposition with ethnic strife-agitated Patidars, incensed Dalits and restive OBCs- also anti-incumbency working to its advantage and against the ruling BJP.
Vaghela's departure and Patel's defeat has already taken the sheen of the challenge and could well un nerve the opposition army preparing for battle.
Why is the BJP investing so much in defeating Ahmed Patel? Because it will restore some semblance of balance in Gujarat where the government has been dithering aimlessly after the departure of Modi for Delhi. Modi understands that a defeat in Gujarat will be a body blow to his plans to retain Delhi in 2019!