What One Rajya Sabha Election Says about Indian Politics | Analysis

Hindustan Times (New Delhi, India), August 3, 2017 | Go to article overview

What One Rajya Sabha Election Says about Indian Politics | Analysis


India, Aug. 3 -- Rarely has a single Rajya Sabha seat been so fiercely contested. And rarely does the contest over a single seat in the upper house of Parliament demonstrate so much about Indian politics.

Ahmed Patel's struggle for political survival in the face of the BJP onslaught and ambition to deprive him of a victory reveals the fragility of power; the expansionist urges of the ruling dispensation; the decay of the opposition; and the state of our institutions.

First, the only way to understand this contest is to go back to the 2004-14 period. Ahmed Patel, as the political secretary of Congress president Sonia Gandhi, almost ran India. He had a key role in appointing ministers, picking MPs, influencing top government appointments from heads of intelligence organisations to those holding constitutional offices. He had control over the party treasury, coordinated with allies, framed plans to weaken the opposition, and much more.

And that is why the fact that Patel today is fighting one of his most important battles - not to reclaim the power he once enjoyed, not to bring the glorious period of the Congress back but to win his own seat - says something about how democracy has a way of humbling the powerful, of how power is fragile: it is a lesson even those at the peak of their power today would do well to heed.

But that was then. Why is Ahmed Patel being given a run for his money now?

There are four explanations.

The first goes back to the way Narendra Modi and Amit Shah do politics. Every election matters, winning every election matters, and the party's sole focus has to be to acquire power, expand its strength and win as Shah memorably put it everything 'from the Parliament to the Panchayat'. In the old days, there was a nudge nudge wink wink understanding between top leaders of parties- they would make concessions to enable political space, or at least a parliamentary seat, for each other. All those elite compacts are dead under Modi-Shah. Everything is up for grabs.

The second explanation is Amit Shah's personal anger at what he perceives was the cynical role played by Patel in framing charges against him. Whether Shah was actually involved in giving a green signal for extra judicial executions in Gujarat as home minister is not relevant here. What is relevant is that in Shah's head, he was hounded by Patel and the rest of the UPA regime - which even led to imprisonment and exile from Gujarat. This is the time for revenge.

The third explanation is that given the difficulties that the BJP faces in the Rajya Sabha, every seat matters. The only real obstacle to the BJP's move from dominance to outright hegemony is the fact that it does not enjoy a majority in the Rajya Sabha. …

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