A Rajya Sabha election in Gujarat, which was meant to be a friendly match, turned into a high velocity slugfest that spilled into slog overs and has the potential to influence state and national politics in the years ahead.
Gujarat goes to polls in 2017 and India two years thereafter. Three principal players of opposing sides — Narendra Modi, Amit Shah and Ahmed Patel — slated to play a key role in both polls hail from Gujarat. Two of these were directly involved in the Rajya Sabha election that concluded on Tuesday and the shadow of the third loomed large over the entire proceedings. That BJP president Amit Shah and Union Textiles minister Smriti Irani would sail through with ease was never in doubt. Neither was the election of Ahmed Patel, political adviser to Congress president Sonia Gandhi. Three Rajya Sabha seats, three candidates. Two from the ruling elite and one from the Opposition. The understanding seemed simple enough. Except that the ruling BJP decided to fish in Congress’ troubled waters and raised the stakes high enough to trigger a run. It poached three Congress legislators and turned one of them, a party chief whip (Balwantsinh Rajput) into their third Rajya Sabha candidate, thereby setting the cat among the pigeons.
What followed was a Mohammed Ali-style pounding of the Congress by the BJP. The Grand Old Party was chased from Gujarat through the countryside to the Congress haven of Karnataka and remorselessly pummelled even there. Seeking safety in numbers, the 44 Congress legislators returned to stay at a resort in Anand, 80 km from the state capital, Gandhinagar, where the voting took place on Tuesday.
Even the end of voting failed to stop the sparring. The Congress raised the issue of cancellation of the votes of two of its rebels, Raghavji Patel and Bholabhai Gohil. With counting stopped after the Congress sought redressal of their grievance, the scene shifted to the Election Commission in Delhi with both sides hurling their top guns in to the attack. A video of the voting perused by the Chief Election Commissioner clinched the issue for the Congress, with the two votes held invalid. Patel joined Shah and Irani into the Rajya Sabha with a personal tally of 44 votes.