It is the first time since 1996 that Gujarat’s Rajya Sabha seats are facing a contest. Four candidates are contesting three seats, two of these held by the BJP, which is keen to topple the Congress from the third. Not only is the race too close to call this time, Tuesday’s elections are significant also because of the stakes for high-profile candidates: Ahmed Patel of the Congress; BJP national president Amit Shah and Union minister Smriti Irani.
Two of the seats face straightforward contests, with the BJP comfortably placed with votes to spare. It is in the third seat that every vote counts. As of now there are at least 10 votes not committed to either side, including two of the NCP that has not revealed its choice yet. | Gujarat Rajya Sabha elections LIVE updates
Each candidate needs 45 first-preference votes to enter Rajya Sabha, and the BJP’s 120 MLAs leave it with 30 votes to spare. The Congress has 51 but is wary of cross-voting.
Its uncertainty began on July 21, when Leader of the Opposition Shankersinh Vaghela announced he was quitting the Congress. Six other Congress MLAs quit the assembly, bringing the Congress strength down from 57 to 51 — including Vaghela. Three of the six — Balwantsinh Rajput, Tejashree Patel and P I Patel — joined the BJP. The BJP then sprang a surprise by fielding Rajput as its third candidate. It can get him elected either by stacking up extra first-preference votes, or by depending on second-preference votes that come into play if first-preference votes fail to decide the winner.
Though Vaghela has publicly said his vote was reserved for Ahmed Patel, he added a rider later when he sought the withdrawal of remarks about him by Congress general secretary Ashok Gehlot, in charge of Gujarat. Vaghela is related to Rajput, whose son is married to Vaghela’s granddaughter.
Amid worries of the BJP luring its MLAs, the Congress had herded 44 of its MLAs out of Gujarat to a resort near Bengaluru. Their stay for nine days was marked by drama: Karnataka minister D K Shivakumar, hosting the MLAs, was the target of searches by the income tax department last week in what the Congress called an act of political vendetta for sheltering the Gujarat MLAs.
Though the Gujarat Congress MLAs put up an united front during their stay in Bengaluru, many in the Congress camp are worried that a few will not vote for the Congress. And even if all 44 do vote for Ahmed Patel, the party will still need to worry about the 45th vote.
The six MLAs other than these 44 and Vaghela refused to join their colleagues in Bengaluru.
The 44 MLAs returned from Bengaluru Monday morning and were whisked away to another resort in Anand.
The Congress has issued a whip to its MLAs with a warning that cross-voting will result in disqualification for electoral politics for six years. From the other camp has come an unusual public statement: Gujarat’s Minister of State for Law, Pradeepsinh Jadeja, declared that anybody can engage in cross-voting in the elections without being disqualified.
The election, which comes ahead of the assembly elections in Gujarat, will see a first: the NOTA option will be open to the voters.
The Congress had written to the Election Commission protesting the use of NOTA and had also moved the Supreme Court, which refused to stay the option. The BJP too had written to the EC citing a 2013 verdict of the Supreme Court to say that NOTA could be applied to Lok Sabha elections but not Rajya Sabha elections.
“We had written to the Election Commission because the Congress was making false allegations against the BJP. We too were opposed to the NOTA option in the RS elections. It proves the EC acts independently,” said Gujarat BJP spokesperson Bharat Pandya.
Vaghela too has been critical of NOTA. “How can one consider a candidate undeserving? Why should one go to vote in that case?” he said.
The crucial others
While the arithmetic has changed every second, the NCP, which was the Congress’s ally in the 2012 assembly elections, has kept its cards close to its chest this time. The party’s in-charge in Gujarat, Praful Patel, declared Sunday that they are yet to decide whom to vote for.
Under these circumstances, the votes of Janata Dal (United) MLA Chhotu Vasava, and Gujarat Parivartan Party MLA Nalin Kotadiya, who is an open supporter of Patidar quota stir, become very important. Both Vasava and Kotadiya have declared that they will vote for Ahmed Patel.
While the Congress has been claiming that Ahmed Patel will win comfortably, the Gujarat BJP has sounded equally confident of a comfortable win for all its three candidates. On Monday, Gujarat Chief Minister Vijay Rupani was quoted by ANI as saying, “People are dying in flood and the (Congress) MLAs are enjoying in the resort. Their MLAs not under their control. They don’t trust them…BJP will win three seats and Ahmed Patel will definitely lose.”
Voting will be held between 9 am and 4 pm at Saputara Hall of Swarnim Sankul II inside the New Secretariat complex. The results will be declared in the evening.