Rajya Sabha poll: BJP eyes 3 Gujarat seats, Ahmed Patel’s fate hangs in balance
The Rajya Sabha election in Gujarat on Tuesday, which will end the fortnight-long political drama around senior Congress leader Ahmed Patel’s candidature, seemed to be going down to the wire.
Patel remained confident of victory, saying on Monday that the “numbers will be surprising” when the results are declared.
Gujarat has three vacancies and the ruling BJP has fielded party chief Amit Shah, Union minister Smriti Irani and Congress turncoat Balwantsinh Rajput. Of them, two are set to win, given the BJP’s strength of 122 lawmakers in the assembly.
For the third seat, Congress chief Sonia Gandhi’s political secretary Patel is up against Rajput.
Patel needs the support of 45 MLAs after six Congress lawmakers resigned amid horse-trading charges against the BJP, bringing the party’s strength in the assembly to 51.
The party is banking on the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) and Janata Dal (United) lawmakers to support Patel, who is seeking re-election to the Upper House of Parliament.
But the calculations could change as one of the two NCP legislators — Kandhal Jadeja, the MLA for Kutiyana — said on Monday evening he was asked by his party leadership to vote for Rajput.
The election has become a battle of prestige for the BJP and Congress as the ruling party is putting its might to ensure Patel’s defeat.
Besieged by a spate of defections, the Congress flew 44 of its MLAs to a resort near Bengaluru in July to keep its flock together before the crucial vote. It accused the BJP of trying to bribe the lawmakers and cried foul over income tax raids last week against Karnataka minister DK Shivkumar, who hosted the party MLAs at the retreat for nine days.
The lawmakers are back in Gujarat and are now staying at a resort in Anand.
Patel met them there and said he has the requisite numbers.
“They (the Shankersinh Vaghela group in the Congress) have been given a whip. They will vote for the Congress. Plus, there are NCP and JD(U) MLAs.”
The JD(U) support is doubtful as the party broke a ruling alliance with the Congress in Bihar on July 26 and formed a government with the BJP.
The Congress defectors are believed to be loyal to Vaghela, who quit the party on July 21, alleging that some of its leaders were conspiring against him. He is also said to have the allegiance of six of the 51 party MLAs.
Vaghela, who had promised to vote for Patel, changed his stand a day before the election. “My vote is secret,” he said.
Congress sources said its 44 MLAs will remain together under strict watch and brought to the polling station at Gandhinagar secretariat just before voting on Tuesday morning.
Other than this group, the Congress needs one more vote to ensure Patel’s victory. That’s where the NCP lawmakers’ votes become crucial.
The BJP is 14 votes short for the third seat. But senior party leader Bhupendra Yadav said all its “candidates are winning”. The confidence stems perhaps from the cross-voting of 11 Congress MLAs in Gujarat during the July presidential poll.
(with inputs from HTC New Delhi)