By Harihar Swarup
History was made in Ahmedabad on Tuesday (Aug 8). After a grueling battle Ahmed Patel of the Congress won in the keenly contested Rajya Sabha election, thanks to the Election Commission, which acted wisely and impartially. The EC declared the votes of two Congress MLAs as invalid for violating the secrecy of ballot paper by displaying their votes to BJP representatives, paving the way for Patel’s victory. Past mid-night Ahmed Patel tweeted–“Satyameva Jayate”.
There have been precedents, which the Congress leaders quoted and Election Commission accepted: “The most recent precedent was in Haryana on June 11, 2016 when in the election to the Rajya Sabha, a Congress MLA’s vote was rejected on the ground that the ballot paper had been seen by a person other than the authorized person. There was another precedent in 2000 in Rajasthan, where an independent MLA’s ballot paper was rejected on the ground that it was seen by a person other the authorized person”.
Though a minor victory, Patel’s success in Gujarat Rajya Sabha election has boosted the morale of Congress. It comes after a series of setbacks.
It is deplorable that instead of setting new norms of probity in politics and public life, the BJP is going the Congress way. The deterioration in the Congress has set in late during Indira’s Gandhi’s tenure and went on from regime to regime. The latest degeneration in the BJP was seen in Gujarat; the way it split the Congress, made its MLAs defect by allurement or any other means to ensure that Ahmed Patel, advisor to the Congress president Sonia Gandhi, was defeated. Ahmed was lucky to have won by a whisker.
What the Congress could do in its 50-year rule, in Modi’s dispensation BJP has done in its three years rule.
Like Congress, the BJP too has started “sale and purchase” of MLAs and MLCs in states. Though Jawaharlal Nehru’s tenure was clean, the way Kerala’s communist government was dismissed and assembly dissolved was a big blot. The brain behind this unethical step was known to be that of Indira Gandhi. That was way back in 1952.
The way NTR government in Andhra Pradesh, having a two-thirds majority, was toppled using governor Ram Lal, was the most blatant example of misuse of power. This was done at the behest of Arun Nehru, the most powerful person in Rajiv Gandhi’s dispensation. They had to ultimately pay a heavy price– not only NTR’s government was reinstated but the Telugu Desam party won wide public sympathy which routed the Congress.
In recent Goa and Manipur assembly elections, the Congress emerged as a single largest party and should have been invited first to form the government but the BJP lured the Congress MLAs to make them ministers. The governors of the two states, violating the established practice (of inviting single largest party), gave the chance to the BJP to form the governments. The two governors are BJP men and they conveniently forgot their constitutional responsibility. The moment a person becomes governor, he becomes a non-party man and is supposed to act impartially but in Goa and Manipur, these norms were thrown to the winds.
In Gujarat, the BJP raised the stakes in an unprecedented way and appeared bent on crossing the bounds of fair play in order to defeat Ahmed Patel. There were floor crossings by Congress MLAs and the party herded the rest of the flock to safety to Congress-ruled Karnataka to protect it from the predatory BJP. Towards the end, the drama shifted to Nirvachan Sadan in New Delhi, and the Election Commission intervened. Votes of two Congress MLAs who had allegedly violated the voting procedure and secrecy of ballot papers were invalidated and Patel won.
In Gujarat, the defection of Congress MLAs to the BJP, and the timing of income tax raids on the Congress crisis manager involved in safeguarding party legislators from alleged BJP lures, have raised troubling questions: just how far is the BJP willing to go to win? Gujarat RS elections have only reinforced the unease sparked by the backroom maneuvers through which the BJP has managed to form governments in states it had lost in elections to other parties, be it Manipur, Goa or Bihar. Its large mandate in 2014 gave it a position of dominance, but the BJP seems to show little deference to checks and restraints that also come with power in a constitutional framework.
After Patel won the battle of nerves, Congress leaders are describing it as historic win which will change fortunes of the party. This, however, is premature, given the flight of its legislators and party men in Gujarat, including the formidable Shankersinh Vaghela.
Congress needs to reboot immediately if it wants to remain relevant in today’s politics. The leadership space needs to open beyond a select coterie of individuals like Patel or Rahul Gandhi. (IPA Service)