The stage is all set for a close fight between ruling BJP and opposition Congress for four Rajya Sabha seats of Gujarat, polling for which is scheduled Friday between 9 am and 4 pm.
The BJP has fielded three candidates — Abhay Bharadwaj, Ramilaben Bara and Narhari Amin, while the Congress has nominated two — Shaktisinh Gohil and Bharatsinh Solanki. And as per the current strength of both the parties in the Gujarat Assembly, they lack the numbers to secure victory for all its candidates.
The elections were necessitated after the term of four MPs ended in April this year; three of them were from BJP — Chunibhai Gohel, Shambhuprasad Tundiya, and Lalsinh Vadodia — and one was veteran Congress leader, Madhusudan Mistry. The elections were due on March 26, which was delayed due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Out of the total 182 seats, current strength of Gujarat assembly is 172 seats as 10 seats are vacant; eight due to resignations of Congress MLAs and two by orders of court. BJP has 103 MLAs whereas, Congress has 65 MLAs.
Each candidate is required to have 35 votes to win. By this formula, opposition Congress requires 70 votes and BJP requires 105 votes to get all their nominated candidates elected. It means Congress is short of five votes and BJP is short of two votes, making other votes very important.
These votes include two of Chhotubhai Vasava led Bharatiya Tribal Party (BTP), one of Kandhal Jadeja from Nationalist Congress Party and one vote of independent MLA Jignesh Mevani. Except for Mevani, neither Vasava nor Jadeja have made it clear if whom will they vote for in the elections.
An MLA from Vadgam constituency, Mevani said, “I will vote for Congress. It is impossible for me to vote for BJP because of their inbuilt desire to destroy the Indian Constitution and replace it with Manusmruti. They have become desperate to increase their numbers in Rajya Sabha to achieve that goal.”
Chhotubhai Vasava said that he would decide about his party’s two votes only at the last moment. Vasava is an MLA from Jhagadia constituency and his son Mahesh is an MLA from Dediapada constitutency.
Speaking with The Indian Express, Vasava said, “I will decide about that (BTP votes) only before the ballot box. I cannot reveal it to you.”
Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) has declared to have given its sole candidate, Kandhal Jadeja from Kutiyana constituency, a whip to vote for Congress in the elections. However, there are speculations that Jadeja may vote against the party whip. He could not be contacted for a comment.
Vasavas and Jadeja had voted for BJP in the previous Rajya Sabha elections held in July 2019 for two seats.
Earlier, Congress was set to win two seats comfortably. However, just after the announcement of the RS elections, eight of its MLAs resigned. The opposition party has alleged that the BJP had poached its MLAs by undemocratic means. The BJP, however, has refuted these allegations. To check further resignations ahead of the RS elections, Congress had camped its MLAs at three locations in Saurashtra, Rajasthan and near Anand in Central Gujarat; two of the venues were resorts and one of them was a farm house.
The resignations also reminded one of the close contest of 2017 RS elections when a number of Congress MLAs had resigned and senior Congress leader Ahmed Patel could win by just one vote. Chhotubhai Vasava had voted for Congress then.
Claiming victory of all their candidates, both the parties have got their MLAs camped in Ahmedabad-Gandhinagar since Wednesday to guide them for the voting. BJP central leadership has sent two senior leaders – Bhupendra Yadav and Ashish Shelar – as national party observers for the elections.
Congress has kept its MLAs at a five-star hotel near airport. On Thursday, the Congress MLAs conducted a ‘mock polling’ exercise in the presence of senior Congress leaders.
According to officials of Gujarat Pradesh Congress Committee (GPCC), senior leader and Rajya Sabha MP Rajeev Satav, who is also Gujarat in-charge of All India Congress Committee (AICC) flew down to Ahmedabad on Thursday morning. It was in the presence of Satav that a mock polling drill was conducted at Ummed Hotel near Ahmedabad airport on Thursday.
“All our 65 MLAs who are present in the Ummed Hotel were trained for the upcoming Rajya Sabha poll and a mock poll was also conducted in presence of Rajeev Satav. We are confident of our victory on Friday,” said Jayrajsinh Parmar, spokesperson, GPCC.
This year, due to the shadow of Covid-19, the Election Commission has made elaborate preparations at Gujarat Assembly where the polling is scheduled.
Chief Electoral Officer (CEO) S Murali Krishna said that all the persons entering the Gujarat Assembly complex will be scanned through a thermal scanner. Anybody showing symptoms will be kept separately as per a Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) adopted by the Commission. If the person happens to be an MLA, he/she will be treated as per the SOP.
Returning Officer for the elections, CB Pandya, said that two MLAs from BJP – Shambhuji Thakor and Parshottam Solanki – have sought help on medical grounds in the form of a companion to cast their vote and the permission has been granted.
The polling booth will be sanitised before the polling and a medical team has been deployed at the Gujarat assembly complex.
No birthday celebrations
The Gujarat Congress decided to not celebrate the birthday of party leader Rahul Gandhi on June 19 (Friday), in view of the Covid pandemic and attack on Indian soldiers by China in Ladakh. “We will not celebrate the birthday of Rahul Gandhi as per his instructions and rather observe two minutes of silence in the honour of our fallen soldiers and distribute ration kits among the poor,” said party spokesperson Jayrajsinh Parmar.
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