Ahmed Patel, Congress president Sonia Gandhi’s political secretary and a key strategist for the party, who is trying for re-election for a fifth term in the upper house, faces serious challenge from the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) this time around.
To take on Patel, who is seen as a trouble-maker for the BJP, the party has named Balvantsinh Rajput as its third Rajya Sabha candidate from Gujarat after he resigned from the Congress on Thursday. He was the Congress chief whip in the state assembly and an MLA from Siddhpur.
In all, there are three Rajya Sabha seats for which elections will be held on 8 August. Rajput will file his nomination on Friday, the last date of filing nomination.
On Wednesday, Patel, who is widely credited with the party’s performance in the 2004 and 2009 general elections, filed his Rajya Sabha nomination from Gujarat. The BJP, meanwhile, announced names of two candidates for the two assured seats—party president Amit Shah and textiles minister Smriti Irani.
On Thursday, hours after three MLAs, including Rajput, quit Congress and joined the BJP, Shah announced the party’s third candidate.
For getting a Rajya Sabha seat from Gujarat, the support of 47 MLAs is required. The BJP has 125 MLAs, while Congress’s tally has been reduced to 54 MLAs after three of them quit on Thursday. Already Congress’s tallest leader in Gujarat, Shankersinh Vaghela, an MLA from Kapadvanj constituency, has announced that he would give up his membership in the house after the Rajya Sabha elections. He is likely to quit along with his son Mahendrasinh Vaghela, who is also a Congress MLA. The three Congress MLAs who recently quit will not be allowed to vote in the Rajya Sabha elections.
Rajput was made the chief whip after he defeated sitting BJP minister Jaynarayan Vyas in 2012. A relative of Vaghela, he is the chairman and managing director of Gokul Refoils and Solvents Ltd, a leading edible oil manufacturing company and was one of the richest MLAs elected in 2012 with assets worth Rs 269 crore.
According to Congress officials, Patel had supported Rajput in building his career—be it contesting from Siddhpur seat or expanding his business empire.
While the BJP is aiming to increase its numbers in the Rajya Sabha, defeating Patel—the only Muslim parliamentarian from Gujarat—could also mean taking out a key strategist who despite a low key profile has always remained at the helm of affairs in the Congress.
The BJP, after ensuring that the required number of votes are cast in favour of Shah and Irani, would transfer surplus votes to Rajput, besides giving him second-preference votes in ballots which are cast in favour of Shah and Irani.
On 11 July, as many as 11 Congress lawmakers in Gujarat, believed to be Vaghela’s supporters, voted for the ruling BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) candidate Ram Nath Kovind in the presidential election, instead of opposition-backed candidate Meira Kumar.
The cross-voting was seen as a signal that Vaghela can be a game spoiler if not a game changer for the Congress.
If the same thing is repeated in the Rajya Sabha election, Patel could be in trouble. Sharad Pawar’s NCP and Nitish Kumar’s JD(U) have reportedly offered the support of three members. However with JD(U) joining hands with BJP in Bihar, things might change in Gujarat as well.
The Congress has warned its legislators that any cross-voting in the Rajya Sabha elections will invite disqualification for six years from the party.
In a media statement earlier this week, Vaghela said that Patel had offered him a Rajya Sabha seat but he had turned it down. He also said that he had assured Patel of his support for RS nomination.
As many as 36 MLAs (out of 57) had in April urged the central leadership to declare Vaghela as the CM candidate. One of the main demands of Vaghela’s supporters was that he be declared as the chief ministerial candidate of the party, but this was declined by the Congress central leadership.
The BJP is trying to neutralize Patel’s chances of being re-nominated in the Rajya Sabha by defecting more than a dozen more MLAs, according to a senior BJP leader, who did not wish to be named.
BJP chief Shah, who addressed party MLAs at the party headquarters ‘Kamalam’ near Ahmedabad recently, hinted at more Congress MLAs joining BJP in Gujarat. A mock session for BJP MLAs ahead of the Rajya Sabha voting is also planned, said a senior BJP leader. Unlike voting for the President, Rajya Sabha elections are by way of an open ballot. MINT
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