Ahmed Patel woos his flock ahead of today’s Rajya Sabha elections

Virendra Pandit Gandhinagar | Updated on January 09, 2018 Published on August 07, 2017

Return of the natives Senior Congress leader Ahmed Patel (centre) with party MLAs at the Ahmedabad airport on Monday, after their arrival from a resort in Karnataka   -  PTI

Gujarat numbers indicate tough battle for Cong leader, easy win for Smriti Irani and Amit Shah

A day before the high-stakes election, Ahmed Patel on Monday made a last-ditch effort to woo back his flock.

The Congress leader exuded “full confidence” about retaining his Rajya Sabha seat from Gujarat for the fifth time, and observed, twice, that India is becoming a “banana republic”.

He also individually met Congress MLAs at a resort near Anand, where they were kept after their return from Bengaluru early this morning. They will head straight to the State capital on Tuesday to cast their votes for the Rajya Sabha election.

While BJP president Amit Shah addressed an MLAs’ meeting here, Patel was closeted with party leaders at Anand to chalk out a strategy for the crucial poll, for which both the parties have issued whips. The 44 Congress MLAs remained holed up at the resort and celebrated Raksha Bandhan with their family members there. They also rejected Gujarat police security inside the premises.

Patel asserted that he is contesting the poll as an ordinary Congressman not as political secretary to party head Sonia Gandhi. “I am an optimist, I have total trust in my MLAs that they will vote for me. Besides, (Shankarsinh) Vaghela has promised his vote. I trust him. The NCP’s two and JD(U)’s one vote will also be for me,” he asserted. However, he also added that this is an election, and “anything can happen.”

Interestingly, while NCP chief Sharad Pawar had recently promised support to Patel, senior NCP leader Praful Patel was ambivalent on whether the two party MLAs will actually vote for the Congress leader. “We have taken no decision so far,” he said.

Shah vs Patel

The make-or-mar election is essentially seen as a war between Shah and Patel. Amid intense speculation that the Gujarat Assembly could be dissolved after the crucial two-day Monsoon Session beginning tomorrow, and that elections could be held in mid-October, Patel accused the BJP government of targeting the Congress and “torturing” the family members of its MLAs. “So we had to take our MLAs out of Gujarat.”

The BJP did not have the numbers to win a third Rajya Sabha seat from the State, so it engineered defections in Congress ranks, said Patel. “They can go to any extent. This country is becoming a banana republic”, he said, twice, during the course of his chat with reporters at Anand. He also warned the party legislators of “action” if they cross-voted.

Vaghela, however, remarked that this election had come to him as a “crisis”. He also condemned the Congress MLAs for ‘holidaying’ at a resort while their flood-hit constituencies suffered.

Asked about the stone thrown at Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi’s vehicle, Vaghela said it only showed the extent of the people’s “frustration” with their Congress MLAs.

In the 182-member Vidhan Sabha, the Congress had 57 MLAs, of which six deserted it recently and Vaghela resigned from the party but not the Assembly. Given the effective strength of the Assembly now being 176, each of the four candidates — Ahmed Patel, Amit Shah, Smriti Irani and Balwantsinh Rajput — will have to poll at least 44 votes each. Technically, Patel should have easily won, as he expected to poll 54 votes (51 Congress plus two NCP and one JD(U) vote). One BJP rebel was also expected to vote for Patel.

But with the possibility of rampant cross-voting (11 Congress MLAs cross-voted for the NDA’s Presidential candidate Ram Nath Kovind in July), more suspected desertions and uncertainties of NCP votes, Patel’s election has turned crucial.

If he wins, it could just be a scrape through. Any defeat could reflect directly on Sonia and Rahul. On the other hand, the BJP has 122 MLAs and both Shah and Irani are expected to win hands down. The third BJP candidate, Rajput, will get 34 BJP votes and is banking on cross-voting from the Congress ranks for the remaining 10 votes.

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Published on August 07, 2017
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