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Panic in Gujarat Cong

Panic in Gujarat Cong

For almost 30 years, Congress had been playing all the cards to make a breakthrough in Gujarat. But, despite the BJP lacking any strong local face, the Congress does not seem to have the stomach for a head-to-head fight with the BJP in Prime Minister Narendra Modi's home ground. And, while the anti-incumbency factor hangs heavily over the BJP after its five consecutive victories, the Congress is yet to resolve its own crisis. Like an invincible political daredevil, the Congress Leader of the Opposition in the State, Shankersinh Vaghela, has brought down the Congress to its knees in Gujarat for all practical and electoral purposes. And its entire effort of saving that one Rajya Sabha seat too looks like an uphill task if not an impossible one. For years, Vaghela had lived a life of an outsider within the Congress, sidelined in the state polity ostensibly at the behest of Ahmed Patel and his coterie that resented his stature and efficacy. Bapu, as Vaghela is called in Gujarat, bore it all, even being disbanded by his four lakh strong Shakti Dal at the behest of Congress High Command. But nothing was good enough.

The rise and rise of Ahmed Patel did see a diminishing stature of Congress leaders in Gujarat and almost proportionately, beyond a point, snide remarks started emanating from the saffron camp that Patel has been effectively managing Congress for the BJP. But Vaghela was blamed for his RSS background. The snide remarks aside, Gujarat Congress seldom saw decisive actions required for an opposition serious for regaining power. Routine electoral debacles were followed by tame resignations of the GPCC presidents and appointment of a new President. Everything went on in a cyclical order. Even if Vaghela is now being blamed for precipitating the crisis, he did give out warnings of the earthquake that has caught the Congress totally off guard, for a long time. He sought a free hand before 2012 elections, and he did so even now. But a free hand to Vaghela with his typical style of functioning would have eroded the authority of many, who prefer to run the party from a distance. Vaghela, who joined the Congress in 1998 after deserting the BJP in 1996, seems to have resented the influence wielded by Patel, a confidant of the Nehru-Gandhi family, within the Congress organisational structure. The influence of Vaghela in Gujarat Congress soon resulted, when Patel was re-nominated for a Rajya Sabha seat from Gujarat and six members of the legislature deserted the party. But beyond the election of 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 fire up its cadres and functionaries. 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 the mark significantly in Gujarat.


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