Amid high drama, Congress political secretary Ahmed Patel clinched a difficult win on Tuesday in what was easily one of the most talked about and bitterly fought Rajya Sabha by-elections in the history of the Upper House. And with this, Congress has managed to save its face as a national party, as failing to elect the third most powerful person in the party to Rajya Sabha would have meant an 'end' not just for Patel but also for Congress in Gujarat right ahead of the crucial state Assembly Election.
After the results were declared, Patel tweeted:
This is not just my victory. It is a defeat of the most blatant use of money power,muscle power and abuse of state machinery
— Ahmed Patel (@ahmedpatel) August 8, 2017
However, unlike the result, the run-up to the by-election was filled with political maneuvers which saw defections, resignations, and allegations of horse-trading. Just last month, senior Congress leader Vaghela had resigned from the party and following him six Congress MLAs had defected to the BJP. Congress then flew 44 MLAs to Bengaluru after reports emerged of MLAs being forced to side with BJP candidates.
And just when it seemed on Tuesday that the high drama might will be over, another episode began right before counting could begin on Tuesday evening. The Indian National Congress sought disqualification of votes polled by its two MLAs — Raghavjibhai Patel and Bholabhai Gohil — under Rule 39 of The Conduct of Election Rules, 1961.
Though the Election Commission announced its decision to disqualify the two votes of rebel Congress leaders at 11.30 pm on Tuesday, the incidents that followed are worthy of a soap opera.
The drama unfolds
The two Congress leaders, belonging to the Vaghela group, allegedly not only disobeyed the party whip but also showed their ballots to Congress agent Shaktisinh Gohil as well as the BJP agent, thus violating Rule 39, and hence their votes have become invalid, the Congress claimed.
"They had voted for the BJP. After showing their ballot to me, they also flashed their ballot to the side where (BJP national president and the party candidate) Amit Shah was sitting, and there is a video of this," Gohil said.
"... Presiding Officer DM Patel is under pressure. We will ask for an official copy of the video and will even move Supreme Court if we find that the video is tampered with," he said.
Gohil said counting of votes cannot start until the presiding officer takes action on the objection raised by the Congress.
The BJP, however, challenged Congress party's objections, alleging that the party has taken to subversive methods to hide Gujarat Congress MLAs' lack of faith in Patel's leadership.
What followed were delegations after delegations of BJP and Congress leaders paying back-to-back visits to the Election Commission offices in Gandhinagar and New Delhi. While BJP's team included senior leaders Ravi Shankar Prasad, Nirmala Sitharaman, Piyush Goel and Arun Jaitley, batting for Congress were leaders like Randeep Singh Surjewala and P Chidambaram.
"The Congress didn't say anything since morning. When they realised that they are losing, they raised objections. The rule is that once the observer and presiding officer allow a vote to be placed on a ballot, there's no provision to disqualify a vote," Prasad had said while speaking with the media on Tuesday evening.
However, Patel said that Congress had submitted their objection right after the voting concluded.
Gujarat BJP president Jitu Vaghani said that Congress' demand reflects the opposition party's frustration. "Congress' internal scuffle has come to the fore, and such a demand (to show video and invalidate votes of the two MLAs) shows their frustration. They are opposing counting of votes because they are set to lose," he told reporters, adding, "They should not blame the BJP. Lack of trust on election officer is not right."
Patel's win shows that all is not lost for Congress and its old guards yet. Even though the party is going through an existential crisis, it managed to clinch a win in a tight battle, And they did it even though six of its MLAs including party whip defected to rival BJP whereas Vaghela resigned from the party.
The party will go to bed heaving a sigh of relief, but Congress' nightmares in Gujarat are farm from over especially with the state going for Assembly elections later this year.
It's still a divided house, and most likely lacking any strategy to tackle BJP. The recent resignations have left Gujarat Congress unit also fragile, and the party's Gujarat unit needs a strong leadership to put up a formidable challenge to the BJP in the upcoming Assembly election.
Another interesting aspect that Patel, who represents the old guards of Congress, and his re-election to Rajya Sabha, have shown is that nothing much is going to change in party's think tank.
Updated Date: Aug 09, 2017 02:09 AM