The Congress party today survived a major embarrassment as its most prominent face in Gujarat Ahmed Patel surviced a scare to emerge victorious from his Rajya Sabha seat. This was the fifth shot by Patel who also serves as the political advisor of Congress president Sonia Gandhi.
Hit by defections and fear of cross-voting in a reduced Assembly of 176 legislators, Patel virtually snatched victory from the jaws of defeat garnering 44 votes against Congress turncoat Balwantsinh Rajput.
Needing 45 first preference votes for a clean victory in his toughest electoral battle so far, Patel banked upon the "unflinching support" of 44 of its own MLAs, two of the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) and one of Janata Dal-United.
The Gujarat Assembly held elections for three MPs to the Rajya Sabha, with each candidate requiring 45 votes to win. Since the BJP has 121 seats, the election of Shah and Irani was a foregone conclusion.
The third seat, however, had become a virtual head to head fight between Patel and BJP's Balwantsinh Rajput. After accounting for 90 votes to get Shah and Irani elected, the BJP was left with 31 surplus votes for Rajput, who would require the backing of rebel MLAs of the Congress and smaller parties to win.
Thank each MLA who voted for me despite unprecedented intimidation & pressure from BJP. They voted for inclusive India, tweets Ahmed Patel— ANI (@ANI) August 8, 2017
High drama was enacted at the Election Commission tonight over the delay in start of counting for the Gujarat Rajya Sabha elections after Congress approached the poll panel demanding cancellation of votes of its two MLAs for showing the ballots to BJP chief Amit Shah. Three delegations each of the Congress and BJP made a dash for 'Nirvachan Sadan' within a span of two hours, with the former demanding that the votes of its MLAs Bholabhai Gohil and Raghavjibhai Patel be declared invalid, and the latter insisting that counting be taken up ‘immediately’.
After examining the video of voting, the poll body at 11:30 pm declared votes of two Congress MLAs who had cross-voted invalid.
Congress was the first to move the Election Commission demanding cancellation of votes of its two disgruntled MLAs for allegedly showing their votes to persons other than the authorised party representatives. According to the rules, voters for the Rajya Sabha elections have to show their ballots to authorised representative of their respective parties before casting them.
Ahmed Patel’s day began with shockers from rebel leader Shankersinh Vaghela, who along with five of his supporters cross-voted for the BJP. Vaghela, claimed the confidence that Patel reposed in the 44 MLAs the party had flown off to Bengaluru to prevent "poaching" from the BJP was misplaced. Vaghela, or Bapu as he is called, claimed: "Four-five more MLAs from the 44 that the Congress is banking upon are also not going to vote for the party."
"I have not voted for the Congress because Ahmed Patel is not going to win and there is no point wasting a vote. We have pleaded so many times to listen to the grievances of the MLAs but it is unfortunate that they did not listen," Vaghela told reporters earlier on Tuesday.
However, one NCP MLA, Kandhal Jadeja, touched the feet of BJP chief Amit Shah when he arrived to vote and exercised his franchise for the BJP before he left for Vaghela's residence "for a luncheon meeting".
The other NCP MLA, Jayant Patel Bosky, is believed to have voted for Patel and so has Janata Dal-United's Chhotubhai Vasava. A strong tribal leader of South Gujarat, Vasava said: "Mainey desh ke liye vote diya hain (I have voted for the country)".
Assuming that all 44 Bengaluru-returned legislators remained intact in favour of Ahmed Patel, he may scrape through with two votes of the NCP and JD-U. So far over a dozen of the 44 have voted and they all claimed to have backed the official nominee.
However, sources in the BJP and close to Vaghela insisted that it was not easy for the veteran of four Rajya Sabha terms. "Not all 44 have voted for him, just wait and watch," a leader close to Vaghela told IANS.
When the 44 MLAs alighted from a bus that brought them to Swarnim Sankul Complex in Gandhinagar, Gujarat BJP President Jitubhai Vaghela and other leaders welcomed them. Several of them shook hands with the BJP leaders.
But Ahmed Patel continued to put up a brave front. "I have full confidence that I will win." Asked about cross-voting by Vaghela and his supporters, he shrugged: "So what (we never counted them)."
With 122 MLAs, on the other hand, Amit Shah and Smriti Irani will win, while the third BJP candidate Balwantsinh Rajput, a Congress turncoat, may lose if Ahmed Patel wins.
Why Ahmed Patel’s victory is significant
A low key leader who keeps away from the media, Patel, 67 is the party’s tallest leader in the state and is considered a master strategist considered key to UPA’s electoral victories at the Centre in 2004 and 2009. Moreover, he is the only Congress leader to have worked with three generations of the Gandhi family and his loss, by all means, would have marked a serious dent to the falling graph of the Congress. However, with the results turning out contrary to widely held expectations, this could be just spark the momentum the Congress needed desperately.
Patel’s political journey began when he became the youngest parliamentarian to win a Lok Sabha seat from Bharuch in Gujarat in 1977, at the age of 26. His victory came at a time when the Congress party was beaten by the Janata Party after Indira Gandhi’s Emergency. All the party’s top leaders, including Gandhi herself, had been defeated.
Patel, a trusted aide of former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, has been a Rajya Sabha MP from Bharuch seat since 1993. The Rajya Sabha victory also comes as a boost to his reputation, besides strengthening the party’s chances in the upcoming state elections.
Boost to Congress
Contrary to the developments seen in the state in the past two weeks or so, the Congress’s last-minute efforts to keep their flock together appear to have worked in its favour. Hit by six defections in a span of less than three days, the Congress had herded 44 of its MLAs to a resort in Bengaluru. Shankarsingh Vaghela, the strategist considered key to this battle, today reiterated that his calls to the top leadership over concerns that MLAs could quit the party were met with a cold response.
The victory is significant not just for the upcoming Gujarat Assembly elections, but also comes as a boost to Congress’ hopes of countering the rise of the Bharatiya Janata Party which decimated it in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections to storm to power.
The victory will also strengthen the image of Rahul Gandhi as a leader of the party and may even hasten his formal elevation to the post of party president. More importantly, it will strengthen the morale of the party’s rank and cadre which has been at an abysmal low following successive losses in Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand and missing out in Manipur and Goa despite emerging as the single largest party.
For the BJP, the results will come as a disappointment, rare but significant nevertheless. The poll battle was being seen as a direct fight between party president Amit Shah and Patel – both prominent faces from Gujarat. Having lost this high-stake battle, the BJP will need to get its grip back ahead of the Assembly elections in the state next year. The BJP should well know that any complacency could cost it dearly in the state which is also home to Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
That is something the BJP can certainly ill-avoid.