Gujarat RS election turns into a high-stakes battle

PTI
Monday, 7 August 2017

The battle is set against the backdrop of dramatic political developments including the revolt in the Congress by veteran leader Shankarsinh Vaghela, resignation of half-a- dozen party MLAs and shifting of 44 MLAs to Bengaluru to protect them from what the Congress has called "poaching" attempts.

AHMEDABAD: The Rajya Sabha election in Gujarat slated for tomorrow has become a high-stakes battle for the ruling BJP and the opposition Congress.

The elections to the upper house from the state, where assembly polls are due later this year, have received greater attention with BJP president Amit Shah and Union Minister Smriti Irani entering the fray and the Congress putting up its heavyweight Ahmed Patel.

The battle is set against the backdrop of dramatic political developments including the revolt in the Congress by veteran leader Shankarsinh Vaghela, resignation of half-a- dozen party MLAs and shifting of 44 MLAs to Bengaluru to protect them from what the Congress has called "poaching" attempts.

Patel, political secretary to Congress president Sonia Gandhi, needs 45 votes to win. His party at present has support of 44 MLAs, who have returned to the state after camping in a resort near Bengaluru for over a week.

On their return this morning, they have been put up in a resort in Anand district.

Even if none of them cross-votes or uses None of the Above (NOTA) option, the Congress will require one additional vote to ensure Patel's victory.

Four candidates are in the fray for the three vacancies to the upper house of parliament and the contest is expected to go down to the wire.

Apart from Shah and Irani, the BJP has fielded Balwantsinh Rajput, who recently quit the Congress and joined the ruling party.

The Congress is banking on the support of two NCP MLAs and one each of JD(U) and Gujarat Parivartan Party (GPP).

However, NCP leader Praful Patel yesterday said his party had not yet taken any decision on extending support to any particular party in these polls.

Notably, the NCP and the JD(U) MLAs had accompanied Patel when he filed his nomination.

Chotubhai Vasava, MLA of JD(U), has been saying that he will only support those who will give something to his constituency.

The Congress is also hoping to win back a few of its seven MLAs, out of its total 51 in the state Assembly, who did not go to Bengaluru and are believed to be close to the Vaghela camp.

This group includes the veteran leader himself.

Before Vaghela broke ranks, the Congress had 57 MLAs in the 182-member House. Six of its MLAs subsequently resigned bringing down the party's tally to 51 and the effective strength of the house to 176.

As per State Election Commission officials, a candidate requires one-fourth of the total number of votes plus one to get elected. This would mean a contestant has to muster 45 votes.

The EC officials said the MLAs have to give their preferential votes indicating first choice, second, third, fourth (as per number of candidates) or they can choose NOTA.

The BJP with 121 MLAs in the House can easily get its two candidates elected.

But for the third candidate it has just 31 votes going by the party tally.

Patel has expressed confidence that he will win.

"Not just 44 votes but (I) will get much more votes," Patel had told reporters last week.

Gujarat Chief Minister Vijay Rupani, however, expressed confidence that all the three BJP candidates will win.

There was also a controversy over NOTA (none of the above) option and the Supreme Court had refused to stay its use in the Rajya Saba polls though both the Congress and the BJP objected to it.

Shah is camping in Gujarat and strategising on how to make all the three BJP candidates emerge victorious.

The BJP has called all its MLAs to Gandhinagar for an orientation on how to vote in the Rajya Sabha polls, party sources said. 

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