Ahmedabad: The Rajya Sabha elections scheduled to be held in Gandhinagar on Tuesday could be a game changer for Gujarat politics with Congress’ key strategist Ahmed Patel in for one of the toughest challenges of his career.
While a victory for Patel could restore confidence for the party ahead of the assembly elections to be held in December, a loss may see the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) moving closer to its 150-plus assembly seats target.
“This is one of the most closely watched Rajya Sabha elections ever," said Ghanshyam Shah, an Ahmedabad-based political expert.
BJP’s national president Amit Shah, who has set an ambitious target of winning over 150 of the 182 assembly seats in the polls, is contesting the Rajya Sabha elections for the first time.
The Rajya Sabha elections, which depend on a party’s strength in the state assembly, usually go uncontested. But it will be a tough contest in Gujarat on 8 August with four candidates in the fray for three Rajya Sabha seats.
Apart from Shah and Patel, Union textiles minister Smriti Irani and Siddhpur MLA Balwantsinh Rajput, who defected to the BJP from the Congress a day before the filing of the Rajya Sabha nominations, are contesting the elections.
As many as six MLAs including Rajput have quit Congress and joined the BJP in the last few weeks. This has brought down the Congress’ numbers in the state assembly to 51 MLAs.
While there is speculation that some Congress MLAs will cross-vote in the elections, the use of NOTA (none of the above) could also play spoilsport.
On Monday, about 44 Congress legislators from Gujarat, who were housed in a Karnataka resort, returned only to be taken to a resort in Anand. The Congress said that it had kept its MLAs in a safe place so that they could not be “poached" by the BJP.
For a victory, Patel would require the support of 44 MLAs. The six MLAs who recently quit the party will not be able to vote on 8 August. BJP has 122 MLAs in the state assembly, including one legislator from the Gujarat Parivartan Party that merged with BJP.
On Tuesday, Patel told reporters at Anand that the two Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) MLAs would support his candidature.
But late at night, the NCP said its MLAs would vote for the BJP candidates.
“BJP knew that they were not going to perform well in the state elections and resorted to every means to get our people to defect. As per BJP’s calculations about 20-25 MLAs were to cross over and join it but this has not happened. We are sure that Ahmedbhai (Patel) will win," said Nishit Vyas, general secretary, Gujarat Congress.
Congress was looking for a revival after the Patel and Dalit agitations that shook the ruling BJP, facing its first election in 15 years in the state without Narendra Modi as chief minister. But its hopes were dashed after the six MLAs quit the party.
Congress’ Shankersinh Vaghela, an MLA from Kapadvanj and seen as the party’s tallest leader in Gujarat, announced in June that he would quit the party after the RS polls. His son Mahendrasinh Vaghela, also a Congress MLA, is also likely to quit the party after the RS polls.
If Patel loses and Vaghela exits as he has threatened to, the Congress’ morale could take a beating, Shah said.
“All our three RS candidates will win. Patel’s defeat will have a huge impact on the state elections. It will help BJP in achieving its 150-plus target in Gujarat elections," said Bharat Pandya, the BJP spokesperson for Gujarat.