Proposing a return to the Lok Sabha electoral fray after nearly three decades, the Gujarat Pradesh Congress Committee (GPCC) has requested Rajya Sabha MP Ahmed Patel to contest the ensuing elections from his home constituency of Bharuch.
State party vice-president and Bharuch Lok Sabha seat in-charge Gaurav Pandya told The Indian Express, “We have personally requested Ahmedbhai Patel to contest from the constituency.”
Asked if the All India Congress Committee treasurer would contest, Pandya said, “Yes. He would contest definitely.” Click here for more election news
The 70-year-old, who hails from Piraman village in Bharuch district of central Gujarat, is virtually considered the most powerful in the party after Sonia Gandhi and Congress president Rahul.
Sources close to Patel said that the veteran party leader might take a plunge into the electoral fray after three decades to protect his “political fiefdom” as Congress ally like Bharatiya Tribal Party (BTP), led by Chhotu Vasava, is eyeing the seat. Chhotu was offered to contest the seat on the Congress symbol, but he declined and decided to contest on the BTP ticket, which is likely to make it a three-way contest.
Sources close to Patel said that he would file nominations on April 3.
Patel, who joined the Congress in 1976, won three Lok Sabha elections from Bharuch seat in 1977, 1980 and 1984. Though 1977 was his debut in electoral politics, he was among six Congress MPs elected from Gujarat even as the then prime minister Indira Gandhi and her son Sanjay had lost from their seats in Uttar Pradesh in the post-Emergency polls.
Patel was among two Muslim candidates who were elected to the Lok Sabha in 1977 from Gujarat, the other being Ahsan Jafri from Ahmedabad. Though Jafri was not fielded by the party again, Patel managed to get party nominations owing to his proximity to Indira and her son Rajiv Gandhi. Jafri was killed in the post Godhra riots of 2002 in Gulberg Society of Ahmedabad.
Patel lost to BJP’s Chandubhai Deshmukh, a tribal candidate, in 1989, the last time he contested.
Bharuch seat has been with the BJP since then with Deshmukh winning four elections, followed by Mansukh Vasava, also a tribal candidate, winning five elections. Vasava has again been nominated as BJP’s candidate from the seat. Prior to Patel, the constituency was represented by Chandrashekhar Bhatt, a Brahmin, in 1951 and 1957, Chhotubhai Patel, a Patidar, in 1962 and Mansinhji Rana, a Darbar (Rajput) in 1967 and 1971.
Local Congress leaders felt that if the seat is given to the BTP in electoral alliance and its candidate wins, the Congress cannot take it back owing to tribal voters accounting for almost half of the total voter strength. Chhotu is insisting that the Congress leave this seat for his party as a reciprocal gesture to his support to Patel in Rajya Sabha elections in August 2017. Patel won with a slender margin, thanks to the support by Chhotu, despite heavy pressure on him from his erstwhile party, JD(U).
A trial is currently on in the Gujarat High Court on a petition filed by BJP’s Balwantsinh Rajput challenging Patel’s election to the Rajya Sabha. Rajput, a Congress turncoat, was fielded by the BJP in the closely-fought contest.
Chhotu said the Congress must reciprocate his gesture in getting Ahmed Patel elected to the Rajya Sabha. “Had Ahmed Patel lost in the Rajya Sabha elections, it would have been a big humiliation for the party at the national level,” he said, adding Patel is under the influence of upper caste Brahmins and Darbars (OBC) of the area. “Hence, he is opposing my candidature from the seat. Yet, I supported Ahmed Patel in Rajya Sabha elections as I am opposed to the BJP’s ideology and its brand of politics.”
Vasava announced that he would contest on his party’s ticket if electoral alliance did not materialise with the Congress on this seat.
The last date for filing nominations in Gujarat is April 4.