At the stroke of midnight…,’ so goes the famous speech that was historic but was short on geography. On the eve of the anniversary of ‘ August Kranti Diwas’, Ahmed Patel, the Congress General Secretary, won a nail-biting and bitter battle for the Rajya Sabha seat and immediately said that ‘the BJP stands exposed for its personal vendetta and political terror.’
It was an epic battle that was waged across two states and lasted four days and involved many operations, ranging from CBI raids, to the deconstruction of party alignments to the malleability of candidates who could be soft targets.
One would wonder why such manoeuvres had to be resorted to for the election that on the face of it is just a routine one, of electing one-third of the Rajya Sabha members once every quarter. In the normal course, such elections are routine and would not merit attention. But these are not normal times, and every seat has to be won, and every panchayat election is like the domino test. Everything, the country’s future, civilizational values, everything hinges on that one seat. Such fine-tuning and manipulation has never been attempted before. But that is not quite true. Such instances have happened once or twice, pundits recall.
After the victory, Patel used the twitter to send the message; ‘Satyameva Jayate. This is not just my victory. It is the rout of the blatant use of money power, abuse of state machinery.’ He thanked the voters for electing a person who stood for an inclusive India and also thanked Sonia Gandhi, the party President, for his victory.
Patel said that the Congress will be strengthened by this victory and this would be the turning point. Hereafter it would emerge victorious, under the leadership of Rahul Gandhi, in the state assembly election that will take place sometime late this year.
The party spokesman, Randeep Singh Surjewala, said that Patl’s election is ‘the defeat of treachery, immorality and blatant misuse of state machinery and this should be an eye-opener for the BJP. Such blatant misuse of power has been defeated in the land of Mahatma Gandhi.’
He requested the BJP to draw the lessons from this experience and ‘not misuse and brutalize democracy, not misuse state power, not be arrogant about money power and respect the mandate of the people.’
Hours after her top aide snatched a close victory, the Congress President Sonia Gandhi commented, "Thank God for the Election Commission. I am happy and relieved.’ She admitted that there was ‘so much tension.’
She refused to speak further on Gujarat, where elections are due later this year.
After watching a video of the vote, the Election Commission had agreed that some MLAs had, indeed, violated secrecy. Its decision reduced the strength of the house to 174 so each candidate needed 44 votes to win, instead of 45, a target that was seen as increasingly impossible for Patel to get amid cross-voting and defections.
Not surprisingly, the victory spurred celebrations of the kind never seen before in Rajya Sabha polls by the Congress, which appears to be having the worst time in decades. Besides defections, the party has been battling the perception that it has weakened considerably and is no longer up to the task of taking on a rampaging BJP.
The Union Minister, Piyush Goel, however pointed out there was no reason for the Congress to gloat about this verdict as they have been reduced to 44 MLAs from the 57. H asked the party to do some introspection and pointed out that the Election Commission had used a criterion of invalidation that helped them to get Patel elected. It was just a technical victory.
‘How can you call this their win? They have been reduced to 44 from 57. The Election Commission, using a criterion, invalidated two votes, or else they would have lost," said Goyal.
‘The same criterion should have been applied to other two MLAs (on which the BJP had raised objections later) as well,’ he added.
‘They have lost popularity among the MLAs. They should not feel that this is their victory. This result will not have any impact on the assembly elections and the BJP will get more than 150 seats,’ Goyal said.
Patel scraped through against all out efforts of the BJP to check his attempt to seek a fifth term. The tussle went on till late past midnight with both parties presenting their cases before the Election Commission, with the Congress delegation, led by P. Chidambaram, knocking at its door for the fourth time past midnight, before the EC said that that was enough.
Sharad Pawat’s Nationalist Congress party with two members and the Rashtriya Janata Dal (United) with two members became the crucial factors. One of the NCP members, Ne. Koradiya, said he had defied the whip, but Pawar denied this. On JDU member also said he had voted for Mr. Patel, despite the party backing the BJP.
Pawar's party has two legislators in Gujarat and it has accepted that one of them defied its stated support for Patel but insists the other stuck with party instructions and backed him.
’'There is no reason to not believe me. Patel is an old friend and I had assured him my vote. And I have voted for him," said the JDU member, Chhotu Vasava.
But the fact is that despite Pawar’s denial, Kotadiya claims that he voted for the Congress in a revolt. His party has denied his pronouncement, alleging that he voted for its candidate but is changing his stand for public consumption because his community, the Patels or Patidars, are angry with the BJP and would turn on him if he admits he stood by the party.
The Patidars, traditionally loyal to the BJP, have been galvanized by the young leader Mr. Hardik Patel, 24, against the party because it has not succeeded in including them among the groups that get reservation quotas for jobs and seats in colleges.
The month-long drama that took the MLAs being holed up in the capital of Congress-ruled Karnataka, Bengaluru, to prevent them from being poached, also led to charges that Mr.Amit Shah, BJP president, had mounted this operation that also included a CBI raid on the host of the MLAs ,finally ended in this midnight drama.
During the JP movement in 1977 also, two of the Congress stalwarts, Jagjivan Ram and HN Bahuguna, did make a mid-night crossover to the rival camp that brought down the Indira Gandhi government. That operation was brief, clinical and had the subtlety of a surgical strike.
Likewise, during the Vajpayee Government’s tenure, defying the National Conference, which was an ally, Saifuddin Soz and voted against the government, thus bringing down the first BJP-led government. The midnight hour when the whole is asleep, that Pandit Nehru recalled so evocatively, has been critical for this country at least thrice now.