After midnight drama, Congress leader Ahmed Patel wins Rajya Sabha seat in Gujarat
Senior Congress leader Ahmed Patel was re-elected to the Rajya Sabha on Tuesday after an action-packed vote in Gujarat that dealt a blow to the ruling BJP.
BJP president Amit Shah and Union minister Smriti Irani won the two other seats vacant in the state.
The outcome ended a fortnight of political drama that turned the usually staid polls for Parliament’s Upper House into an acrimonious prestige battle between the Congress and BJP.
The election was projected as a battle of grit, wit and nerve between the chief strategists of the two principal national parties — Congress president Sonia Gandhi’s political secretary Patel and BJP chief Shah.
“This is not just my victory. It is a defeat of the most blatant use of money power, muscle power and abuse of state machinery,” Patel tweeted at 1.53am on Wednesday.
Prior to his win for a fifth term in the Rajya Sabha, the Congress scored a moral victory after the Election Commission disqualified the ballots of two of its rebel lawmakers.
The decision boosted Patel’s prospects as it brought down the number of votes required for his win to 44.
He needed 45 votes at the time of polling. But it went down after the poll panel declared the votes of the two rebels invalid for allegedly showing their ballot papers to BJP president Shah and Union minister Smriti Irani — both candidates in the biennial election.
Besides, a legislator each of the NCP and JD(U) are said to have voted for Patel.
“The whip is clear. We are the partner of the UPA,” said Jayant Patel, the NCP MLA and party state president.
Later at night, BJP rebel Nalin Kotadiya also said he voted for the Congress candidate.
JD(U) lawmaker Chhotu Vasava kept his cards close to his chest. “I have voted for the country and as per the party’s ideology,” he said.
But the party’s national spokesperson, KC Tyagi, said its lone legislator in Gujarat voted for the party’s latest ally, the BJP.
Speculation swirled that JD(U) lawmaker switched sides as Patel visited Vasava’s home in Gandhinagar after the vote.
For more than six hours counting was put on hold after the Congress moved the election panel.
This was the last twist in a fortnight-long drama before the election as the Congress, besieged by back-to-back resignations from six of its lawmakers, herded its flock to a resort near Bengaluru and accused the ruling BJP of bribing the MLAs to defect.
Congress leaders Randeep Singh Surjewala and RPN Singh dashed to the poll panel and gave a video to buttress the party’s allegation that lawmakers Bholabhai Gohil and Raghavjibhai Patel displayed their ballots and, hence, the two votes should be cancelled. Surjewala, the party’s chief spokesperson, said the two MLAs showed their ballots to BJP president Amit Shah and Union minister Smriti Irani.
The BJP fielded Shah, Irani and Congress turncoat Balwantsinh Rajput, considered a pitch-queering contestant against Patel. Shah and Irani won comfortably as the party has 122 lawmakers in the assembly.
The battle was for the third seat in which Patel was contesting.
The Congress has effectively 51 lawmakers after the resignations, but only 44 are said to be loyal. The rest owe their allegiance to Shankersinh Vaghela, who quit the party on July 21.
Vaghela declared he didn’t vote for Patel. “I did not want to waste my vote when Congress is not winning,” he said.
Also, he claimed that eight Congress MLAs cross-voted, including Karmshi Patel, the MLA for Sanand, who was part of the 44 legislators taken to Bengaluru.
All 44 of them, who were shifted a day before the vote to a resort in Anand, over 100km from Gandhinagar, were brought in a bus to the polling station.
Responding to the Congress move to the poll panel, the BJP deployed finance minister Arun Jaitley, law minister Ravi Shankar Prasad and commerce minister Nirmala Sitharaman to counter the charges and demand immediate counting of votes.
Jaitley, an acclaimed lawyer, argued that the validity of votes can’t be questioned after they went into the ballot boxes.
Prasad said: “If no party or election observer objected to it when the votes were cast, their validity can’t be questioned later.”
The Congress then sent a second team to counter the BJP’s argument.
Former finance minister P Chidambaram, one of the party’s top legal brains, and Ghulam Nabi Azad cited the instance when Surjewala’s vote was scrapped on similar objections during the Rajya Sabha poll in Haryana last year.
His vote was declared invalid as he showed it to Congress legislature party leader Kiran Choudhary before putting the paper in the ballot box.
Chidambaram said: “The law is very clear. If the ballot is seen by a person other than the authorised person then it is liable to be rejected. BJP was beneficiary of this law on June 11, 2016. How has the law changed in one year?”
(With inputs from New Delhi bureau)