RS contest in Gujarat goes down to the wire, Patel's fate hangs in balance
Suspense mounted over the fate of Ahmed Patel, political secretary to Congress president Sonia Gandhi, seeking a fifth term in the Rajya Sabha, with the BJP going all out to stymie his efforts in the biennial elections on Tuesday.
The 44 Congress MLAs, who were flown to Bengaluru to prevent "poaching" by the BJP, returned to the state on Monday.
They were moved to the Nijanand Resort near Anand. Their family members visited the resort for the Raksha Bandhan festival.
Of the 57 party legislators in the 182-member Gujarat Assembly, six quit the party on July 26 and three of them joined the Bharatiya Janata Party on July 28. Of the remaining 51 MLAs, seven, including Shankersinh Vaghela, did not join those who were flown to Bengaluru.
Patel, who needs 45 first preference votes in a House with an effective strength of 176 MLAs, expressed confidence that he will win the election with the support of 44 party MLAs, and the backing of two NCP and a lone JD-U member.
"I have spoken to Sharad Pawarji and he has promised all help to the Congress. They have even issued a whip. As for Vaghela, he has himself promised that he will vote for me and I believe he will keep his word," he said.
Asked about allegations of surveillance on him and Congress MLAs by the ruling BJP, he said: "I don't know why I am targeted like this. This is an example of a banana republic.
"I have full confidence in my victory tomorrow despite the BJP's attempts and the numbers will surprise everyone," Patel said at a private resort near Anand where the 44 MLAs are lodged.
On Tuesday, the legislators will directly go to state capital Gandhinagar to vote for the party's Rajya Sabha nominee Ahmed Patel.
BJP chief Amit Shah and Information and Broadcasting Minister Smriti Irani are contesting the other two seats, which the BJP is sure to win. The party fielded Congress defector Balwantsinh Rajput as the third candidate in its bid to defeat Patel.
"As all of us are united. The BJP cannot threaten any of our MLAs. Horse trading is not possible with those who are with us," party's lawmaker Shaktisinh Gohil told reporters outside the airport before leaving for Ahmedabad.
In New Delhi, the Congress expressed confidence of Ahmed Patel's win, despite the BJP's attempts to lure MLAs through money, power and threats.
"BJP, by adopting cheap methods, is conspiring to turn minority votes into majority in Gujarat," the Congress said.
"They can make all attempts to insult the people's mandate... But we are confident that Ahmed Patel is going to be victorious...," said Congress spokesperson Randeep Singh Surjewala while briefing reporters.
"People have rejected them. It will be proven in the assembly elections. BJP is worried about the loss in Gujarat, therefore they are trying their best to further lower the level of politics.
"However much they (BJP) try to conspire, Congress will walk the path of truth and will win," he added.
Gujarat has seldom experienced political suspense since 1995 when the first BJP government came to power, and after Prime Minister Narendra Modi who has fortified the state like a fiefdom. All the 26 Lok Sabha candidates in the state are from Modi's party.
Problems started when Congress veteran, the maverick 77-year-old Shankersinh Vaghela, called it quits at a public show of strength on his July 21 birthday over not being made the chief ministerial candidate for the 2017 assembly elections and not being handed over the complete reins of the campaign.
On Monday, Vaghela said he was not in touch with Congress MLAs.
He also said his relations with Congress leader Ahmed Patel were "very cordial".
Vaghela, who resigned from the Congress in July, told NDTV in an interview that there was no question of getting any offer from the BJP.
Asked about his vote, Vaghela said voting was the "property of a MLA". I don't want to expose it."
Asked about speculation that he had been offered the post of Governor by the BJP, Vaghela said there were no talks between him and the Bharatiya Janata Party.
"There is no question of any offer," he said and added that BJP leaders were not in touch with him.