Skip to main content

Congress in Gujarat: Waiting for Godot

By Rajiv Shah
A few days back, I happened to have an informal chat with a senior Congress leader. Belonging to Gujarat, this leader has made his way to the high command, going pretty close to party president Sonia Gandhi, which he more often than not nauseatingly proclaims, not unusual for a Congressman. Yet, I found something uncommon in him. I have known him before he decided to join politics more than a decade ago. At that time, he was more of a human rights activist, running an organisation in a backward Gujarat region which fought for the sake of a neglected section. I would enjoy visiting the far-flung areas under his influence talking with workers trained by him. One may dispute his approach and ways, but his unflinching commitment to the cause of the poor seemed impressive.
I always thought, this leader's decision to enter politics was wrong, as he would have to make odd compromises. Yet, he would brush aside my suggestion as "failure to understand certain advantages of politics." He once told me frankly, "What I can now do as a politician for the target population, I could never do it in the past." For instance, in the past, he would have to wait for hours to meet a senior government official to get justice for this neglected section, but now he could pick up the phone and talk directly with the Gujarat chief secretary!
Be that as it may, during the informal meeting, which lasted for two hours, I came out satisfied -- that his commitment to the poor, despite being in politics, remains somewhat intact. He was frank and forthcoming. And he stunned me with a rather drastic conclusion about the elections to the Gujarat state assembly, scheduled for December 2012, one reason why I decided to keep his anonymity, though I know those who are in the loop would identify him. He said, "Take it from me. We are losing in Gujarat. Modi will win hands down. We have no organisation or imagination to match him. I have conveyed my views to the high command, including the very top…"
I thought what he told me wasn't anything new, that there is a near unanimous view that chief minister Narendra Modi is invincible in the state. Perhaps Modi's critics are not wrong -- Modi has successfully institutionalised his Hindutva image, especially among large sections of urban middle classes, who see him as a great defender ever since the 2002 communal riots. I am amused when some of my middle class relatives and friends tell me, without mincing words that sans Modi there can no development in Gujarat. "There is no one else, in BJP or Congress, who has his guts", they argue out endlessly.
But what this Congress leader said was quite interesting. "Gujarat is 40 per cent urban. Modi is popular among the urban middle classes, where we are extremely weak. Out of 182 assembly seats, Modi's BJP has an upper hand in 60 urban seats. The baseline for the BJP, therefore, is 60, while we start at zero. It's a fight between two incompatible contestants. For a majority, we would have to win at least two-thirds of the rest of the non-urban seats, which is a very tall order, considering the fact that in Gujarat those who live in urban areas have strong rural links", he said.He further stretched his argument. "Remember the days when the poor would think Congress as their party? This image is getting dimmer with every passing day in Gujarat, like elsewhere. Now, our leaders in Gujarat rarely go to slums to take up fight for them. They were not seen taking up the leadership when the slum dwellers were being displaced under the Sabarmati riverfront project in Ahmedabad. In fact, they have no cadres to work among the poorer sections. Even today poor in urban Gujarat are willing to believe that the Congress is their party, of Dalits and OBCs, which have been our traditional voters. But we have nobody to mobilise them or take up their issues", he said.
In fact, he regretted, the current effort is to divide seat allotment in the forthcoming elections between two influential communities of Gujarat -- Patels and Rajputs. His argument ran on following lines: The Patel leaders in the party, like Siddharth Patel and Narhari Amin, are out to convince the high command that the Patels are unhappy with Modi and that they would vote Congress. They cite the instance of ex-CM Keshubhai Patel's open rebellion against Modi in Patels' community meetings to prove their point. As for the Rajputs, leaders like Shaktisinh Gohil and Shankarsinh Vaghela believe they would mobilise the OBCs who are descendents of the foot soldiers prior to independence -- Thakores and Kolis.
"There is no strategy focused on the urban poor. If you do not take up the problems the urban poor face, be it housing, wages, basic infrastructure facilities like bijli, sadak, pani, who would back you?", he wondered, adding, "Comfort level of our leaders is very high. There is a leader who would play cards till late in the night in clubs and switch on mobile late in the morning. Another leader, an ex-party president, would run the party sitting from the enterprise office he owns in Ahmedabad." As for Muslims, they may vote Congress, but they will get Congress just about half-a-dozen seats in urban areas. Meanwhile, the Congress leader said, the prospective Congress candidates willing to be MLAs in the urban areas are living in a strange illusion. "They think, Rahulji will come to campaign in Gujarat, wave a magic wand, and things will change. They haven't learnt any lesson from what happened in Uttar Pradesh. If you don't do any grassroots work with poorer sections, you will not succeed", he insisted.



Hold your breath! UK ex-Muslims to celebrate Blasphemy Day on September 30

Soheil Arabi The Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain (CEMB), in a suprise move, has decided to observe September 30 as the Blasphemy Day. In an email alert, Maryam Namazie, CEMB spokesperson, has asked anyone interested to join CEMB in celebrating blasphemy by " uploading your photo into our #blasphemyday frame and sharing on social media."

What this veteran Gandhian witnessed at Rajghat is indeed intensely disturbing

Renowned Gandhian, activist and physicist Professor VK Tripathi witnessed an “intensely worrisome” event at the Gandhi Samadhi on his birthday on October 2, 2021. “The children of the Hindutva criminals who assassinated him have captured places which are supposed to keep Gandhiji's heritage alive”, says Deepak Joshi in a Faceook post, insisting, “We should strongly protest against it. It is already too late.”

Forthcoming book explodes Western myth: Personal qualities are biologically inherited

Jonathan Latham, PhD, Executive Director, The Bioscience Resource Project, New York, has said in an email alert via JanVikalp that his forthcoming book about genetics and genetic determinism, provisionally titled "The Myth of The Master Molecule: DNA and the Social Order" criticises the notion that personal qualities are biologically inherited: *** The contention of the book is that the key organising principle of Western thought is the seemingly innocuous and seemingly simple idea that our personal qualities are biologically inherited. That is, our character derives from our ancestors rather than being an always-adapting product of our own experiences, decisions, and education. The book makes the case, first, that genetic determinism is a scientific fallacy. Organisms are self-organised systems and therefore are not genetically determined. Second, the explanation for the myth, which predates Mesopotamian cities of 6,000 years ago, is its utility. Genetic determinism rationa

International Energy Agency floats new plan to end oil, gas, and coal expansion

In major shift, International Energy Agency (IEA)’s World Energy Outlook has mainstreamed 1.5°C pathway, showing need to end oil, gas, and coal expansion, insisting on new fossil fuel phase-out benchmarks in order to test government ambition ahead of COP26. A report by Oil Change International, distributed by BankTrack: *** For the first time, the International Energy Agency (IEA)’s flagship annual report on global energy pathways, used worldwide to influence trillions of dollars in investment, details an achievable roadmap to keep global heating below 1.5 degrees Celsius (°C). By making a 1.5°C scenario the benchmark of this year’s World Energy Outlook (WEO), the IEA challenges governments and companies to back up lagging Paris pledges with immediate action to shift the energy system away from fossil fuels. Notably, this year’s WEO solidifies the policy conclusion, first presented by the IEA in May , that no new oil, gas, and coal extraction projects should be approved under a 1.5°C-

Gujarat cadre woman IAS official who objected to Modi remark on sleeveless blouse

By Rajiv Shah Two days back, a veteran journalist based in Patna, previously with the Times of India, Ahmedabad, phoned me up to inform me that he had a sad news: Swarnakanta Varma, a retired Gujarat cadre IAS bureaucrat, who was acting chief secretary on the dastardly Godhra train burning day, February 27, 2002, which triggered one of the worst ever communal riots in Gujarat, has passed away due to Covid. “I have been informed about this from a friend in Jaipur, where she breathed her last”, Law Kumar Mishra said.

Known to have assissinated O'Dwyer, Udham Singh chose not to apologise to the British

Udham Singh (26 December 1899 – 31 July 1940), best known for assassinating Michael O'Dwyer , the former lieutenant governor of the Punjab in India , on 13 March 1940, done in revenge for the Jallianwala Bagh massacre in Amritsar in 1919, for which O'Dwyer was responsible, was subsequently tried and convicted of murder and hanged in July 1940. While in custody, he used the name Ram Mohammad Singh Azad, which represents the three major religions of India and his anti-colonial sentiment. Writes a well-known analyst, "He too could have apologised. He chose the noose instead!" Udham Singh's speech prior to sentencing in UK: *** “I say down with British Imperialism. You say India do not have peace. We have only slavery Generations of so called civilisation has brought us everything filthy and degenerating. known to the human race. All you have to do is read your own history. If you have any human decency about you, you should die with shame. The brutality and blood

Diaspora protest as Biden failed to publicly address persecution of minorities in India

As Modi addressed UN, human rights groups decried “monstrosity” of persecution of Muslims, Christians, Dalits, and other minorities in India. Demonstrators gathered outside UN to protest fascism, hate campaigns, weaponized rape, apartheid, lynchings, unlawful arrests, attacks on the media, and other abuses in India: A report distributed by the diaspora group Hindus for Human Rights: *** While observers said it was “shameful” that President Biden failed to publicly address widespread persecution of religious minorities in India when he met with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on September 24, more than 100 members of interfaith and human rights groups spoke out as Modi addressed the United Nations General Assembly. Speakers condemned the egregious human rights violations and murders of religious minorities in India under a government that openly supports Hindu supremacy. The rally was sponsored by 21 organizations, including Ambedkar International Center, Ambedkar King S

Indian Doctors for Truth want Modi to stop overzealous universal vaccination drive

At a time when there is a huge demand to ensure that vaccination should be universal in order to gain immunity against the pandemic, an organisation called Indian Doctors for Truth, have asked Prime Minister Narendra Modi for the “urgent need to stop the overzealous universal vaccination drive against Covid-19.  Read the letter, signed by 18 doctors and a health expert: ***

Non-entity 6 yrs ago, Indian state turned Fr Stan into world class human rights defender

Jharkhand's Adivasi women  By Rajiv Shah A lot is being written on Father Stan Swamy, a Jesuit priest who is known more for his work for tribal rights in Jharkhand. His death at the age of 84, even when he was an under trial prisoner for his alleged involvement in the Bhima Koregaon violence three years go, has, not without reason, evoked sharp reaction, not just in India but across the world.

Ex-official: Why not offer Vaishnaw loss making BSNL, Air India to prove his worth?

By Rajiv Shah A senior chartered accountant, whom I have known intimately (I am not naming him, as I don’t have his permission), has forwarded me an Indian Express (IE) story (July 18), “Ashwini Vaishnaw: The man in the chair”, which, he says, “contradicts” the blog (July 17), "Will Vaishnaw, close to Modi since Vajpayee days, ever be turnaround man for Railways?" I had written a day earlier and forwarded it to many of my friends.