High drama over Gujarat RS polls as Cong, BJP squabble
Ahmedabad/New Delhi: Confusion surrounded the outcome of the Rajya Sabha election being fought by senior Congress party politician Ahmed Patel from Gujarat on Tuesday. Both the Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) claimed victory and the former asked the Election Commission (EC) to act against alleged malpractices in the voting. Late in the night, there was no sign that the process of vote counting had started. It wasn’t clear whether it would start at all on Tuesday night.
Earlier in the day, the election saw a fair share of twists and turns, with at least four alleged instances of legislators flouting the party whip. Both the BJP and the Congress have made the election of Ahmed Patel, political secretary to Congress president Sonia Gandhi and five-time Rajya Sabha member, a prestige issue. The BJP wants to embarrass the Congress by ensuring his loss. The Congress wants to ensure his victory.
Three Rajya Sabha seats in Gujarat were at stake. Of the three, the election of the BJP’s party president Amit Shah and Union minister Smriti Irani to the upper house is a certainty. The contest was between the Congress’s Patel and the BJP’s Balwantsinh Rajput (a former Congress legislator who defected last month).
In the run-up to the election, the BJP engineered the defection of Rajput and five other Congress legislators (they were not eligible to vote in Tuesday’s election on account of this). Spooked by the prospect of more defections, the Congress transported its flock to, first, a resort in Bengaluru, and then, another at Anand in Gujarat.
The Congress claimed in its complaint to the EC that two of its legislators did not vote for Patel and, indeed, showed their ballot papers to the BJP representatives in the polling booth. It wants these votes disqualified. The BJP denies this charge. On Tuesday evening, senior leaders of both parties, in turn, met with officials of the EC at its headquarters in New Delhi. With the Commission yet to take a call on the complaint, the counting, which was to start at 5pm, was delayed.
The Rajya Sabha polls come ahead of assembly elections due in Gujarat, the home state of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, in the next six months. The term of the 182-member Gujarat assembly ends in January next year.
The state has witnessed a two-way contest in the polls with the BJP being in power for nearly two decades. The ruling BJP has now set itself a target of winning 150-plus seats in the assembly polls.
As the political drama shifted to the national capital late Tuesday evening, at least four set of meetings were held in the EC’s headquarters, two each by Congress and BJP leaders.
“There is enough evidence that the ballot papers were seen by people other than those authorized. EC must reject these ballot papers as it did in Haryana in June 2016,” senior Congress leader P. Chidambaram told reporters after the meeting in EC.
The BJP delegation which met the EC had top Union ministers including finance minister Arun Jaitley. “Have full faith in EC. Congress’s allegations have no substance and they are giving wrong precedents,” law minister Ravi Shankar Prasad told reporters.
“The BJP’s political motto in Gujarat is to completely demoralize the Congress. The more Congress gets demoralized, the better it is for BJP. A defeat for Ahmed Patel could break the back of Congress in Gujarat, at least in the context of the morale of the cadre,” said Amit Dholakia, professor of political science at Maharaja Sayajirao University in Baroda.