Is Sonia Gandhi Losing Grip?
Rats deserting a sinking ship are an old truism. As the UPA ship of state begins to wobble are Congress leaders getting ready to jump? An odd sequence of events suggests something is not quite right in the Congress party. Recall first the background of the curious relationship that existed between the BJP poster boy Mr Narendra Modi and Congress President Mrs Sonia Gandhi’s Political Secretary and close confidant, Mr Ahmed Patel. Mr Modi and Mr Patel both belong to Gujarat. However, that never provided a satisfactory explanation for the curious cooperation that became evident between them. Mr Modi never put up a candidate against Mr Patel but allowed him to be elected uncontested to Rajya Sabha. Later, when the Gujarat government sorely needed the export of cotton Mr Patel intervened with the Union cabinet and had the ban on cotton exports lifted. These two events did not attract sufficient media attention. Mr Ahmed Patel handles electronic media for his party. But there has now occurred an event more difficult to ignore.
Last week the former Gujarat Congress party spokesperson Ms. Asifa Khan in a well-publicised press conference joined the BJP. She hails from Baruch, which has a large Muslim population. Baruch also happens to be Mr Modi’s original constituency. Ms. Khan earlier had been handpicked by Mr Ahmed Patel to become spokesperson of the Congress. She was considered a staunch Ahmed Patel loyalist. She said she was joining the BJP to “bury the 2002 communal riots”. She said: “I am as pained as any victim of 2002 riots but the community has to move on…. BJP is working towards bringing in prosperity.” She made clear that she remained grateful to Mr Ahmed Patel who had inducted her in politics. This development is a huge boost for Mr Modi not for the Gujarat election but for washing off his communal taint and thereby strengthening his claim to become his party’s prime ministerial candidate.
The timing of Ms. Khan’s defection should be viewed in the context of developments within the BJP. Mr Ram Jethmalani who had been helped by Mr Modi become a Rajya Sabha MP publicly criticised BJP President Mr Nitin Gadkari and made a strong pitch for Mr Modi to be projected as the PM. Earlier Mr LK Advani had stated that the BJP ought to become more inclusive. This statement was widely interpreted as a dampener for Mr Modi whose secular credentials have been questioned. On the eve of RSS Chief Mr Mohan Bhagwat’s scheduled meeting with Mr Modi the Gujarat Congress party’s Muslim spokesperson and staunch Ahmed Patel loyalist defected to the BJP and praised Mr Modi. That some cross-party moves are afoot is clear enough. What remains unclear and crucially significant is whether Ms. Khan’s move was blessed only by Mr Ahmed Patel or also by Mrs Sonia Gandhi. The possibility of Mrs Gandhi approving this move is too remote for serious consideration. Ms. Khan’s continued praise for Mr Patel is too obvious to be dismissed. Till now Mr Patel has not criticised his protégé. What then are the implications? Is Mr Ahmed Patel revolting against his boss? If so, is he alone or is this the reflection of growing disenchantment within the Congress? Does Mrs Sonia Gandhi’s writ still run as powerfully as it did or is she beginning to lose her grip?
By Rajinder Puri