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When Ahmed Patel Won the Mother of All Rajya Sabha Elections

Patel’s role and influence within the party has shrunk in direct proportion to Rahul Gandhi’s rise in the Congress.

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Against all the odds and against the might of the Modi-Shah combine, Ahmed Patel pulled off what many believe was an improbable victory. To have managed to keep the majority of MLAs intact and also to get the possible votes of the lone JD(U) MLA, one NCP and one GPP MLA, Patel demonstrated that attempts to write his obituary were premature.

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Patel’s role and influence within the party has shrunk in direct proportion to Rahul Gandhi’s rise in the Congress.
Ahmed Patel after casting his vote on 8 August.
(Photo: PTI)

Sixty-seven-year-old Ahmed Patel is a shy, unassuming man of a few words. He has been a Gandhi family loyalist and was handpicked by Rajiv Gandhi, along with Ashok Gehlot, Digvijaya Singh, Tarun Gogoi as the party's gen-next leaders. He was Parliamentary Secretary to Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi and has been political secretary to Sonia Gandhi for close to two decades.

Patel has over the years built a reputation of quietly getting things done. After the Gandhis, he is arguably the most powerful leader in the Congress, but with no leadership ambitions of his own.

He is known to enjoy a good rapport with leaders cutting across the political spectrum and these linkages stood him in great stead during this election. He played a critical behind-the-scenes role during the years UPA was in power. However, his role and influence within the party has shrunk in direct proportion to Rahul Gandhi's rise in the Congress.

By pulling off this remarkable victory, Ahmed Patel has once again demonstrated his importance and his managerial skills – this at a time when Rahul Gandhi continues to flounder and those around him showing none of the gravitas, nerve or the nous required to take on the formidable Modi-Amit Shah duo. The victory is likely to strengthen his position within the party, considerably .

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Congress, Still a Formidable Opponent?

Going forward, it will come as a big shot in the arm to a beleaguered Congress party.

Just months ahead of the assembly elections in Gujarat, an election for which the BJP still remains the big favourite to win, Patel's win could provide the party with the much-needed self-belief. The manner in which it belatedly staked its all in eking out this win, does show that on its day, the Grand Old party still has it in itself to mount a formidable challenge.

No Rajya Sabha election has ever come close to acquiring the kind of stakes, intrigue, and profile than the contest for the third Rajya sabha seat from Gujarat. The contest involved some of the most powerful names in Indian politics.

Ranged against the might of the BJP and arguably the country's two most clinical politicians Narendra Modi and Amit Shah, was Ahmed Patel – the all powerful political secretary of Congress President Sonia Gandhi. It was also in many ways an extension of the proxy war between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Sonia Gandhi.

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Amit Shah vs Ahmed Patel

Patel’s role and influence within the party has shrunk in direct proportion to Rahul Gandhi’s rise in the Congress.
Amit Shah after casting his vote in Gujarat Rajya Sabha election.
(Photo: PTI)

Make no mistake. This was a personal battle between Amit Shah and Ahmed Patel. Shah holds Patel responsible for the time he spent in jail and for his externment from Gujarat and left nothing to chance in gaming his strategy to defeat Ahmed Patel. This was a battle in which everything was part for the course with neither side taking political prisoners.

The battle went down to the wire and ultimately it was the EC’s decision to invalidate the votes of the two Congress MLAs that tilted the battle in Ahmed Patel's favour. The EC's decision was preceded by the unedifying spectacle of high-powered delegations from both sides petitioning the EC thrice within a span of a few hours.

Ahmed Patel and Shah, the Congress and the BJP went toe to toe, but ultimately it was Patel and the Congress that won and the mighty Modi-Shah duo stood humbled. Sterner tests await both Ahmed Patel and the Congress party, but for now they can savour this one.

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Once the dust settles down, the BJP might realise that perhaps it erred in raising the stakes and investing so much effort and prestige all for winning just one seat. In doing so, it not only helped galvanise the almost comatose Congress party like never before, but also robbed itself of some of the sheen of winning the other two Rajya sabha seats from the state.

Most political battles have an element of personal undertones to it, but never before has a political party displayed such a desperate desire to defeat one individual. The BJP and its leadership raised the stakes in this election to unprecedented proportions. Now, they will have to live with the consequences of it all.

(The writer is a senior journalist. He can be reached @javedmansari . This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)

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Topics:  Narendra Modi   Amit Shah   Ahmed Patel 

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