For the first time in over two decades, there’s a contest for the Rajya Sabha seats in Gujarat. This time, three Rajya Sabha seats are on offer. Since the BJP has 120 MLAs in the 182-member Assembly, it can easily win two of the three seats hands-down without a contest. The Congress, down from 57 legislators to 51 after six of its MLAs resigned from the party and the Assembly, is fighting to win the third seat. A candidate needs 45 votes to win.
Now, for the candidates. The BJP has nominated its party president Amit Shah and Textiles Minister Smriti Irani, both of whom are expected to win without a contest. For the third seat, it has pitched former Congress leader and chief whip Balwantsinh Rajput. The Congress, on its part, is seeking to get Ahmed Patel, political secretary to Sonia Gandhi, elected for the fifth time from the state.
The contest is too close to call as there is a great amount of dissension within the Congress. With some of its MLAs cross-voting in the presidential elections last month, there is a fear within the party that it could be repeated. There is also no clarity on how the two NCP MLAs and the lone JD(U) legislator would vote either.
Gujarat Rajya Sabha polls live updates
10:50 am: A senior Congress leader Kunvarji Bavaliya claims Congress MLA from Jasdan, Bhola Gohil voted for the BJP, terms him ‘gaddar‘ (traitor), reports Gopal Kateshiya. He had reportedly kept aside the seat for Gohil in 2012 elections for him to win.
10:45 am: What does Vaghela’s political career look like? Here’s a glimpse:
10:35 am: In a piece for the Sunday Express, Leena Misra writes about Shankarsinh Vaghela, “Back in 1995, when Vaghela broke away from the BJP, his Rashtriya Janata Party (RJP) had formed a government with support from the Congress, for which he still thanks Ahmed Patel.
“He is a very liberal man, a saint-like man, loyal to Madam Gandhi,” he says, breaking into a smile and adding, “He also plays billiards. (Like in the game) in politics, he targets the white and the red falls’.””
Today, the same Vaghela, who has spoken in the past of his friendship with Patel, has ditched him.
10:30 am: If everyone votes according to what they say, then we would have a really simple election on our hands. We are now hearing that one NCP MLA travelled with the Congress camp but ultimately voted for the BJP. No confirmation though!
10:25 am: Let’s take a straw poll and see what our readers think of the chances of Ahmed Patel’s re-election? After all, it’s a close, close contest. We will put out the results at the end of the live blog.
10:10 am: Okay, too many things happening at the same time!
The Congress contingent of 44 MLAs who were housed in a resort on the outskirts of Anand have reached the state Assembly for the vote.
Meanwhile, Shankarsinh Vaghela’s son Mahendrasinh has also voted but he declines to reveal how he voted. If he votes his father’s way, then Patel will lose another crucial vote.
Also, Chief Minister and BJP leader Vijay Rupani says he has voted again to the whip issued by the party. He adds that the NCP MLAs will vote for the BJP too. But Jayant Patel of the NCP says he has voted according to the high command ie for Patel.
9:50 am: So who are the five Congress MLAs apart from Raghavji Patel who may not vote for Patel?
CK Raulji (Godhra), Mahendrasinh Vaghela (Bayad), Dharmendrasinh Jadeja (Jamnagar north), Bholabhai Gohil (Jasdan) and Amit Chaudhary (Mansa) were not part of the Congress contingent of 44 MLAs who went to Bengaluru.
9:45 am: More MLAs are now coming out of the state Assembly telling reporters how they voted. Not sure if this is violative of the secret ballot.
Dharmendra Jadeja of the Congress says he voted for Rajput of the BJP. ”Congress hadn’t been listening to us for a year,” he told ANI. Another MLA, Raghavji Patel, says he has voted for the BJP candidate too. He says he wants to remain in politics, just not in the Congress. So that’s two down for the Congress. If you include Vaghela, that’s three MLAs voting for the BJP candidate.
9:40 am: 16 votes cast in 40 minutes!
9:35 am: Vaghela does not vote for Patel
A setback for the Congress as Shankarsinh Vaghela comes out and tells reporters that he did NOT vote for Ahmed Patel. “Jab Congress jeetne waali hai hi nahi, vote bina matlab Congress ko dene ka matlab nahi tha. Humne Ahmed Patel ko vote nahi diya (When Congress was not going to win, what’s the use of voting for the party. I have not voted for Ahmed Patel),” Vaghela said.
So, does this mean that some of the MLAs loyal to Vaghela will vote the same fashion?
9:20 am: So what’s it about Ahmed Patel that the Congress wants him reelected? A brief profile of the leader:
Patel has been an MP from Gujarat seven times – three times to the Lok Sabha and four times to the Rajya Sabha. But he is not just an ordinary MP. He was often called the ‘number 2’ in the Congress during the UPA years after Sonia Gandhi. He is her political secretary and is believed to have played a huge role in the party’s victories in 2004 and 2009. Patel is also hugely influential in his home state and was a force to reckon with when the party ruled the state till 1995. After the BJP came to power in 1995, the Congress has not been able to win back the state. Getting Patel reelected has been a prestige issue for the Congress, not just to add to its numbers in the Rajya Sabha, but to show the BJP its place ahead of the state elections later this year. If Patel wins, it will energize party cadre going into the Assembly election.
9:18 am: Interestingly, the contest is so tight and nerve-wracking that some on Twitter are even comparing it to the epic HBO series Game of Thrones. There’s even a hashtag #GujaratGoT going around.
9:15 am: Vaghela, Amit Shah, Irani, Gujarat CM Rupani, Ahmed Patel are all there at the Assembly.
9:10 am: So, NDTV is reporting that out of the two NCP MLAs, one is likely to vote for the BJP candidate and the other for Congress. It quotes Sharad Pawar saying that he has asked senior party leader Praful Patel to go to Gujarat and ensure that its MLA votes for Patel as the other legislator has turned rebel.
9:05 am: And we are hearing that the voting has begun in the Assembly in Gandhinagar.
8:55 am: A brief backgrounder on the events leading up to the RS polls
It began with the presidential elections when the Congress noticed cross-voting in their ranks when some MLAs, violating party rule, voted for Ram Nath Kovind instead of Meira Kumar. Indications of dissension erupted after the sudden resignation of the party’s top leader Shankarsinh Vaghela, who was the LoP in the state Assembly. Vaghela had complained that he was neglected by the party and the organisation. Soon, we saw at least six MLAs of the party resigning from the Assembly, three of whom joined the BJP including its chief whip Balwantsinh Rajput, one of the richest MLAs in the state. Rajput was in turn nominated by the BJP for the third RS seat. Rajput’s son is married to the granddaughter of Vaghela. So there’s that connection too.
Scared of more defections, the Congress soon packed 44 of its MLAs to a resort in Bengaluru reminiscent of the time when Vaghela, then in the BJP, had got many of the party MLAs packing to Khajurao thus splitting the party in 1996. After almost two weeks, the MLAs returned to Gujarat and housed in a resort on the outskirts of Anand town. We still don’t know how the numbers are going to play out.
We still don’t know how the numbers are going to play out. If the Congress can get all 44 of its MLAs coupled by the votes of the two NCP MLAs, then Patel can cruise through without any trouble. We will have to wait and see how this nail-biting contest turns out.
8:45 am: So how are the numbers stacked? This graphic below will give our readers an idea. A candidate needs 45 MLA votes to win.
8:30 am: Welcome everyone to this live blog where we are going to track all the updates from the decisive cliffhanger Rajya Sabha elections in the state of Gujarat. Stay with us as we bring you all the numbers and how each candidate could end up getting elected to the Upper House!