Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Union ministers, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) chief ministers and senior leaders on Wednesday congratulated Amit Shah
for completing three successful years as the party president and for his Rajya Sabha
But the celebratory spirit was amiss at the BJP national
headquarters — 11, Ashoka Road — and among party members of Parliament (MPs) and ministers who attended Parliament on Wednesday. The loss of a Rajya Sabha
seat in Gujarat
had caused much pain, or so it seemed.
had fielded Balwantsinh Rajput, who had defected from the Congress.
But Rajput lost to Congress
leader Ahmed Patel.
The situation in Ahmedabad was different, with Patel winning his Rajya Sabha
seat despite the best efforts of Shah and his lieutenants. The Congress
and other Opposition parties finally had something to cheer about. They have been facing a string of losses to the BJP, including in the Uttar Pradesh
in March. The coup in Bihar with Nitish Kumar
aligning with the BJP
was the latest hurrah of Shah.
“The last time I saw BJP
leaders this downcast was after their defeat in the Bihar Assembly polls
in 2015,” a Trinamool Congress
MP said. According to a Congress
leader, Patel’s victory, which came against heavy odds, has given the Congress
and the rest of the Opposition the confidence that Modi
and Shah weren’t invincible.
Patel’s win could also cause convulsions within the Congress, where Congress
Vice-President Rahul Gandhi-led younger leaders are challenging the older guard. A source said the absence of the Congress
vice-president from Tuesday’s Congress
Working Committee meeting was deliberate. “He claimed he was indisposed. But he was trying to send a message to the old guard that they needed to give him space,” a senior leader said.
However, Patel’s win as well as the fight put up by senior leaders Ashok Gehlot, P Chidambaram and others have strengthened the voice of the old guard. Congress
President Sonia Gandhi is now confronted with the challenge of brokering peace and preparing the party for the forthcoming Assembly polls
and Himachal Pradesh by December.
Circumstances have also offered the Opposition another opportunity to rally forces. Hours after the Election Commission
announced Patel’s win at 2.30 in the morning, BJP
Lok Sabha member Sanwar Lal Jat died. Jat was an MP from Ajmer, and the seat is now headed for a bypoll. Congress
Rajasthan unit chief Sachin Pilot had represented the seat in 2009 and had lost to Jat in 2014. Opposition parties suggested to the Congress
that Pilot should contest the bypoll, especially given that he is a hardworking and popular politician and that the Vasundhara Raje-led BJP
government is said to be losing ground.
The Opposition is also preparing to give tough fights to the BJP
in the bypolls slated in Uttar Pradesh’s Phoolpur and Gorakhpur. Phoolpur Lok Sabha MP Keshav Prasad Maurya, now the deputy CM in Uttar Pradesh, and Gorakhpur MP and Uttar Pradesh
CM Yogi Adityanath need to vacate the two seats by mid-September.
The Opposition is mulling fielding a common candidate in Phoolpur, while the BJP
is still unsure if it should ask Maurya to vacate the seat and risk an election or shift him to the Centre. Bahujan Samaj Party chief Mayawati’s name has done the rounds as the joint Opposition candidate from Phoolpur. But, she is unsure.
For now, all eyes are on Janata Dal (United) rebel Sharad Yadav’s conference on August 17 and Rashtriya Janata Dal chief Lalu Prasad’s Opposition unity rally in Patna on August 27. Sharad Yadav is on the warpath against Nitish Kumar’s decision to ally with the BJP.
Meanwhile, the Congress
president has invited all Opposition leaders for a meeting on the last day of the monsoon session, on Friday. West Bengal CM Mamata Banerjee
is flying down to attend the meeting.
After he retained his Rajya Sabha
seat, Patel said Congress
workers in Gujarat
should now aim for 125 seats in the Assembly polls, due later this year. “Our next target is to win the 2017 elections,” he said. The Congress
also expelled rebel legislators, including Shankersinh Vaghela.
In some embarrassment for Nitish Kumar, Patel thanked Sharad Yadav, who took the initiative to ask the lone JD(U) legislator in Gujarat
to vote for Patel. The vote proved crucial for Patel’s win.
In a development related to Gujarat
Assembly polls, the Election Commission
on Wednesday told the Supreme Court that it would be able to conduct the polls
using electronic voting machines with paper trail.
But, there were also those in the Opposition ranks who said the battles ahead were more difficult. Former Jammu and Kashmir CM Omar Abdullah said Patel’s win “should have never been this difficult”. “Introspection and strategy shift warranted. How much more evidence do we require to understand that we Opposition parties are up against a ruthless, finely tuned BJP
political machine,” Abdullah tweeted.
In all of this, farmer organisations and trade unions have announced their plans to launch sustained protests across the country against the Modi