Gujarat: Sonia Gandhi’s political gamble!

Gujarat assembly elections have delivered nothing short of a political bombshell to the party in power and key leaders. Of course, BJP leaders Narendra Modi and Amit Shah — both of whom hail from Gujarat — were probably not prepared for such a strong fight from Congress and that too under the leadership of Rahul Gandhi. And this has begun political nightmares for them regarding 2019 parliamentary polls. Some credit must be given to Sonia Gandhi also for taking several key steps ahead of Gujarat assembly elections. It is worth noting that she chose to remain in the background during the campaign for Gujarat polls. Neither she nor Priyanka were visible, as they usually were for UP elections, during the Gujarat campaigning.

Equally significant is the decision taken for ensuring Rahul’s leadership of Congress ahead of Gujarat polls. The decision could have been taken after December 18, that is after the results were declared. Taking the decision ahead of the polls was a risk-loaded political gamble. Nothing can ever be said about democratic elections notwithstanding the emphasis given to probable results in India by opinion and exit polls. If Congress had not performed well and had been routed out of the state, it would certainly raised questions about leadership potential of Rahul Gandhi. Also, Sonia would probably have been asked to retain party leadership for some more time. But Sonia took the risk. She must be thanking her stars now for not having backtracked from taking such a bold decision.

Without doubt, she did not play this card blindly. Of course, it shall remain a major suspense on actual factors which prompted her to gamble regarding Rahul’s elevation in the party ahead of Gujarat polls. Also, did she choose to stay away from Gujarat primarily because of ill-health or was it all a part of her political strategy? If Congress had performed poorly, failed to give BJP a strong fight and/or secured less than 40 seats, at present, questions would have certainly been raised about the political credibility of Rahul’s campaign. BJP and its leaders would have been celebrating at not having faced a strong contender in Gujarat and also there being minimal chances of any surfacing for 2019 parliamentary polls. Undeniably, Sonia must have considered these political risks. It was not an easy political bet for Sonia, literally putting Rahul’s political future at stake on the results of Gujarat elections.

Sonia as well as Rahul must be relieved that their party’s performance in Gujarat has quietened all those who may have probably questioned the latter being crowned as party’s key leader. This issue, it may be noted, had of late begun being deliberated upon with some making noise over dynastic politics in Congress and several other parties. Now, the performance of Congress in Gujarat polls has at least for now sealed their lips and has also increased the political importance of Rahul for the party’s future. Undeniably, this has been made possible primarily because of Sonia choosing to remain in the background during the campaigning in Gujarat. If she and/or his sister had been as visible as they are normally during polls, Rahul’s political importance would have been probably marginalised. Besides, Congress may not have been able give BJP as tough fight as it has.    

Rahul’s campaign may not have had the same effect if Sonia was also on the forefront for several reasons. It would have certainly given BJP another political weapon to use against the Congress. And that is of Sonia’s foreign origin. By deciding to stay in the background and also ensuring Rahul’s elevation as the party chief, Sonia exercised a key strategy. It was not confined to promotion of Rahul but timing suggests that it was played to erode away an anti-Congress strategy, based on Sonia’s foreign origin, which BJP would most probably have used. Clearly, Congress’ success rests only and only on the electoral importance given to the party by Gujaratis through their votes. Rahul’s campaign has had a crucial impact on their decision to turn their back towards a party they had earlier voted more strongly for.

Interestingly, even Modi’s Gujarati origin proved to be of little electoral help for BJP here. There are several reasons for BJP failing to politically cash on this. One apparently is Rahul’s surname. Many believe that the Congress leader is a close relative of Mahatma Gandhi, who was of Gujarati origin. Besides, Gujarati voters apparently gave greater importance to their economic woes not being redressed by the rise of Modi’s political stature. Gujarat elections also suggest their being disappointed with whatever agenda was earlier promised to them by Modi.

Perhaps, Rahul’s success also rests on a slow but definite change in the voting pattern of young voters who are giving less importance to caste, religion and similar factors considered decisive in Indian elections. Sixty percent of Gujarati voters are under 40 years of age. Undeniably, Rahul has emerged a “winner” in Gujarat elections primarily because Sonia’s shrewd gamble paid off!