Ahmed Patel’s RS poll win shot in the arm for Congress but bigger battle remains
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Ahmed Patel’s RS poll win shot in the arm for Congress but bigger battle remains

Ahmed Patel’s dramatic victory in the Rajya Sabha election from Gujarat may have rejuvenated the Congress but the weakened party has its task cur out for the forthcoming assembly polls in the BJP-ruled state

india Updated: Aug 09, 2017 17:23 IST
Hiral Dave
Hiral Dave
Gandhinagar, Hindustan Times
Ahmed Patel,Rajya Sabha election,Gujarat election
Gujarat Congress leader Ahmed Patel with party president Sonia Gandhi at an election campaign rally in Rajkot. (PTI File Photo)

The hard-fought victory of Congress heavyweight Ahmed Patel in the most dramatic Rajya Sabha election in recent memory has breathed fresh life into the otherwise crumbling Gujarat Congress months before the state goes to polls.

The win is set to raise the stakes dramatically in the December assembly elections given that BJP president Amit Shah has already set an ambitious target of 150-plus seats in the 182-member House. And to achieve it, the BJP may now have to bank on Congress turncoats.

“I am happy. I would like to thank the Congress MLAs. We will fight assembly elections with the same enthusiasm and resolve,” Patel said after pulling off an unlikely midnight victory.

The Congress had 57 MLAs till a fortnight ago but could manage the votes of just 43 of them in Tuesday’s polling, thanks to a spate of resignations and cross-voting. However, the fact that the grand old party managed to keep its flock of loyal MLAs together amid “attempts of horse-trading” reflects that the party has emerged as a united house just in time.

Rebel MLA and former chief minister Shankersing Vaghela, six of his loyalists and Sanand legislator Karmshi Patel – among the 42 MLAs taken to Bengaluru -- cross-voted. But this did not prove enough for the BJP to topple Patel.

And with the exit of the Vaghela faction, which chose to part ways by cross-voting in the presidential elections in July, the Congress is now calling itself a “united house”.

“We are united. The BJP’s tactics could not break us,” said Congress spokesperson Shaktisinh Gohil.

But unity has come at a price. The party has lost the support of 13 MLAs since the exit of Vaghela on July 21. And the Congress’ loss is BJP’s gain.

The BJP will still go to the assembly elections with an edge over the Congress. This is despite the fact the election will be the first since Narendra Modi moved to Delhi as Prime Minister in 2014.

The Congress will also miss its master strategist and former RSS man Vaghela, who is known to play his cards close to the chest and is yet to announce his next move.

On the other hand, six other Congress MLAs who resigned days ahead of the RS polls are expected to help the saffron party win back various sections of society like Patidars, tribal and farmers with whom the BJP has off late been trying to revive its equations.

Three of them have already joined the ruling party and many others are likely to follow suit soon.

Despite the win, Patel and the Congress had to scout for every single vote.

“I asked the Congress so many times not to put the reputation of Ahmed Patel at stake because this RS election will have an impact on other state as well as national elections. But the party is not paying heed even to its MLAs,” said Vaghela.

Tejshree Patel and Prahlad Patel, who joined the BJP along with Balwatsinh Rajput, represent North Gujarat – a Congress stronghold and the epicentre of the Patidar agitation for OBC reservation. The stir by Patidars or Patels, otherwise known for their loyalty to the BJP, is seen as a bigger roadblock than the Congress for the party in its bid to win for the fifth consecutive time.

“The BJP tried to kill two birds with one stone. The strategy was clear that the broken Congress will not only make RS win difficult for Ahmed Patel but also help win weaker constituencies and disillusioned voters,” said senior journalist Ajay Umat.

Both Tejshree and Prahlad are seen as the biggest sympathisers of the agitating Patidars. Prahlad had become the poster boy of the Congress as he was regularly seen at hospitals by the side of Patidars injured in violent clashes with police.

Besides, the Congress’ move to take 44 MLAs to Bengaluru to prevent alleged horse-trading might also end up damaging its prospects in the assembly elections.

Six of the 44 MLAs are form flood-hit Banaskantha and the BJP made it a rallying point against the opposition party. Chief minister Vijay Rupani camped for five days in the region to oversee relief work.

Ramsinh Parmar, who resigned as MLA but has not joined the BJP, also enjoys tremendous clout of farmers as Amul chairman.

Parmar, along with other Vaghela loyalists – including Raghavji Patel, Dharmendrasinh Jadeja and Bhola Gohil – arelikely to be roped in by the BJP to further increase its tally in the Saurashtra region.

Mannsinh Chauhan and Channa Chaudhry, who also bid adieu to Congress, hail from the the tribal region, which has been the focus area of both BJP and Congress for the coming elections.

“The key leaders of Congress including their legislative party leader Vaghela, chief whip Balwantsinh Rajput and spokesperson Tejshree Patel have left the party. The Congress seems to have lost the assembly elections even without a contest,” said BJP spokesperson Bharat Pandya.

And the Congress would do well to heed NCP leader Majid Memon’s reminder.

“Congress should remember that Ahmed Patel won because of one vote of NCP, otherwise it would have been very embarrassing for them,” he said.

And that is how it stands for the party seeking to reclaim Gujarat, a state it lost way back in 1995.

First Published: Aug 09, 2017 12:06 IST