Gandhinagar, Aug 8 :Facing the toughest electoral battle of his career, Congress chief Sonia Gandhi’s political secretary Ahmed Patel scrounged for every vote as polling for three Rajya Sabha seats in Gujarat progressed on Tuesday. BJP President Amit Shah and union minister Smriti Irani appeared set for an easy win.
Needing 45 first preference votes for a clean victory, Patel’s day began with shockers from rebel leader Shankersinh Vaghela, who along with five of his supporters cross-voted for the Bharatiya Janata Party.
Not only this, the maverick Vaghela, who had quit on his birthday on July 21, claimed the confidence that Patel reposed in the 44 MLAs the party had flown off to Bengaluru to prevent “poaching” from the BJP was misplaced.
Vaghela, or Bapu as he is called, claimed: “Four-five more MLAs from the 44 that the Congress is banking upon are also not going to vote for the party.”
As for himself, he told reporters: “I have not voted for the Congress because Ahmed Patel is not going to win and there is no point wasting a vote. We have pleaded so many times to listen to the grievances of the MLAs but it is unfortunate that they did not listen.”
Patel has been banking upon the “unflinching support” of the 44 MLAs, two of the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) and one of Janata Dal-United.
However, one NCP MLA, Kandhal Jadeja, touched the feet of BJP chief Amit Shah when he arrived to vote and exercised his franchise for the BJP before he left for Vaghela’s residence “for a luncheon meeting”.
The other NCP MLA, Jayant Patel Bosky, is believed to have voted for Patel and so has Janata Dal-United’s Chhotubhai Vasava.
A strong tribal leader of South Gujarat, Vasava said: “Mainey desh ke liye vote diya hain (I have voted for the country)”. Sources close to him confirmed to IANS that he put his stamp on Patel’s candidature.
Assuming that all 44 Bengaluru-returned legislators remained intact in favour of Ahmed Patel, he may scrape through with two votes of the NCP and JD-U. So far over a dozen of the 44 have voted and they all claimed to have backed the official nominee.
But sources in the BJP and close to Vaghela insist that it is not easy for the veteran of four Rajya Sabha terms.
“Not all 44 have voted for him, just wait and watch,” a leader close to Vaghela said.
When the 44 MLAs alighted from a bus that brought them to Swarnim Sankul Complex in Gandhinagar, Gujarat BJP President Jitubhai Vaghela and other leaders welcomed them. Several of them shook hands with the BJP leaders.
But Ahmed Patel continued to put up a brave front. “I have full confidence that I will win.”
Asked about cross-voting by Vaghela and his supporters, he shrugged: “So what (we never counted them).”
With 122 MLAs, on the other hand, Amit Shah and Smriti Irani will win, while the third BJP candidate Balwantsinh Rajput, a Congress turncoat, may lose if Ahmed Patel wins.
The Gujarat Assembly has 182 seats but is now left with 176 MLAs after six Congress legislators resigned.