Gujarat Rajya Sabha polls – there is hardly anything to celebrate for Congress

The Rajya Sabha polls to elect 3 members from Gujarat state to the Upper House of the Parliament was held yesterday. And following the developments of it, which continued post midnight, was no less than watching a Bollywood potboiler.

However, even before the Rajya Sabha elections came into picture, former BJP rebel leader and currently Congress rebel leader Shankersinh Vaghela, who was the leader of opposition in Gujarat Assembly, kept the political developments in the state interesting.

He kept everyone in Congress on tenterhooks by skipping party meetings and organising his own show of strength sabhas and giving tongue-in-cheek statements like “Today I am in Congress, tomorrow, who knows?”

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In the 182 seats, Gujarat Congress held 57 seats as on 27th July. Congress heavyweight Ahmed Patel, also adviser to Congress Vice President Sonia Gandhi, was up for re-election in the Rajya Sabha polls. Patel needed 45 votes to stay in Rajya Sabha and with 57 MLAs, it should have been an easy win. Right?

However, things changed on Shankersingh Vaghela’s birthday on 21st July. On his 77th birthday celebrations, Vaghela quit Congress claiming that the leadership had sacked him. He announced he would revolt and said he could not bear to see injustice happening. He had even claimed Congress was on a “suicidal” path and there is no way he could support that.

Vaghela’s firebrand statements were just the beginning. On 27th July, 3 Congress MLAs quit and joined the BJP, bringing the Congress MLA strength to 54. One of the MLAs to quit this day was Balwantsinh Rajput, then Chief Whip of Congress in Assembly. Interestingly, Shankersinh Vaghela’s granddaughter is married to Balwantsinh Rajput’s son. Vaghela’s son Mahendrasinh Vaghela is also a Congress MLA in Gujarat. Rajput was then made the third candidate for Rajya Sabha, along with Amit Shah and Smriti Irani. Very next day, 3 more Congress MLAs quit to join the BJP, bringing down the strength to 51 MLAs.

With a week to Rajya Sabha elections, Congress began to panic. Even with 51 MLAs, this should have been an easy win for Patel. However, Congress was not taking any risk.

Though Gujarat was inundated in one of the worst floods in over a decade, Congress moved 44 of its MLAs to a luxury resort in Bengaluru. There they received lot of flak for abandoning the people who voted for them even as they enjoy luxury in Bengaluru. It drew more criticism as special chef was arranged for to provide Gujarati meals even as the rescue operations in Gujarat were carried out in their constituencies.

Meanwhile, Congress VP Rahul Gandhi decided to make a visit to Gujarat where we saw controversies like stones pelted on his car. Ironically, Rahul Gandhi tried to convince Gujaratis that Congress is with them even as 44 of its MLAs were in a luxury resort in time of crisis.

Day before the voting, they were transported back to Gujarat, but were kept in another resort near Ahmedabad. Congress had put in all muscle and money power to save one Rajya Sabha seat, for which they had no qualms in shattering the faith of Gujaratis.

In a desperate bid to play Congress’ tried and tested divisive caste politics, AICC General Secretary Digvijaya Singh appealed to Shankersinh Vaghela, as a fellow Rajput, to ‘return the favour’ for all that Congress has done for him. However, Vaghela and his son Mahendrasinh Vaghela, both voted against Ahmed Patel.

The voting on 8th August started at 9 am and concluded at 4 pm. The counting of votes started at 5 pm, but was stalled by Congress after they raised a technical issue claiming two Congress MLAs, Bholabhai Gohil and Raghavji Patel, did not show their vote to Congress polling agent. They demanded their votes be quashed.

Counting was stalled as the returning officer waited for Election Commissions reply. Soon enough, Chhotu Vasava, the lone JD(U) MLA from Gujarat said he has extended his support to Patel and voted for him. Vasava represents the Jhagadia (ST) seat in Bharuch district of south Gujarat. (Patel was born in Bharuch, Gujarat.)

After Congress went knocking on EC’s doors, BJP followed suit. The drama continued till late in the night when EC refused to meet either of the delegations which had come for the third time. At 11:30, EC declared Gohil and Patel’s votes invalid.

This brought down the number of votes required for Patel to win from 45 to 44. Finally, at 1:30 am, almost 10 hours after the voting concluded, counting of votes resumed and with 44 votes, Patel retained his seat. Patel was quick to credit Rahul Gandhi for his victory and said how Congress will reach new heights under Gandhi’s able leadership:

Congress was quick to hail it as a victory of democracy. Irony just kidnapped MLAs, held them hostage, threatened them, created a ruckus in the Assembly, and elected itself to Rajya Sabha.

But is  really something to celebrate for Congress, or it is a sign of things to come? It is clear that the target was not Ahmed Patel, but Sonia Gandhi, whose confidante he is. BJP was going all out to make it sure that the defeat is seen as a ‘blow to Sonia Gandhi’. A revenge for all the “Blow to Modi” headlines that Ahmed Patel is believed to have managed when Congress ruled.

But for the disqualification of those two votes of rebel Congress MLAs — even though the released video clip doesn’t show them showing their votes to Amit Shah (unless there is a longer clip not yet released in public) — Ahmed Patel would have lost. BJP may take it to courts, though there is no such hint as of now.

However one hint is pretty clear — the BJP will go all out against the Gandhis. Incidentally, Smriti Irani, who was one of the winners of the Rajya Sabha poll, is a common thread. She gave Rahul Gandhi a good fight in 2014 Lok Sabha elections in Amethi, and she keeps visiting the constituency making it clear that she will take the fight to the next general elections too. Perhaps not so coincidentally, posters in Amethi declaring Rahul Gandhi ‘missing‘ were put up on the days Gujarat assembly voted to elect Rajya Sabha members.

The going is going to be tough for Gandhis in coming days.

And yes, the immediate challenge for Gandhis and Congress would be the Gujarat assembly elections that take place later this year. While Congress might be celebrating Ahmed Patel’s victory, they know that the reality is that their house is divided, they are facing rebellion, and they have earned massive bad PR due to the Rajya Sabha polls owing to the resort politics.

Not much to celebrate for Congress, right?

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