Flutter in Congress Flock
Why party strongman Ahmed Patel is jittery on poll-eve
In 1995, Shankersinh Vaghela, then in the BJP, shepherded 47 party MLAs to a resort in Khajuraho, allegedly with the assistance of the then Congress chief minister of Madhya Pradesh, Digvijaya Singh. In a turnabout last week, it’s the Congress that was crying foul after six of its 57 MLAs in Gujarat suddenly resigned. Fearing further attrition ahead of the polling for three Rajya Sabha seats on August 8, the party removed 44 of its remaining 51 MLAs to a resort in Karnataka.
After all, the future of Sonia Gandhi’s all-powerful political advisor, Ahmed Patel, is at stake. His bid to retain his Rajya Sabha berth has been challenged by Balwant Singh Rajput, the Congress’s whip in the state assembly, who has been nominated by the BJP. This while BJP president Amit Shah and Union minister Smriti Irani are assured of winning the other two seats without contest.
Upsetting Patel’s political applecart is only a short-term objective for the BJP. Shah has his eye on the Gujarat
AHMED PATEL HAS NEVER CUT IT SO FINE. HE IS BANKING ON THE SUPPORT OF THREE NON-CONGRESS MLAs
assembly polls in December, by when he is looking to make significant inroads into the Congress’s base. Three of the MLAs who quit the Congress, including Rajput, are OBC Kshatriyas. The remaining three are Patels—a community somewhat estranged from the BJP in the wake of the quota protests. The two communities constitute over 35 per cent of the state electorate.
Vaghela’s exit, too, is certain to hurt the Congress. Analysts point to his following amid OBC Kshatriyas. Its back to the wall, the Congress accused the BJP of trying to buy its MLAs. Party spokesman Shaktisinh Gohil insists the BJP’s “shameful attempts at horse-trading” won’t work. “Ahmedbhai will win,” he says.
The BJP is doing exactly what it had pulled off ahead of the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, when it enticed the Congress’s Patel strongman Vitthal Radadiya and made his son Jayesh a minister. Political observers say Vaghela’s son Mahindrasinh could be similarly ‘accommodated’. There is speculation already that Vaghela might revive his Rashtriya Janata Party to make things sticky for the Congress (and help the BJP) in the central and north Gujarat and Saurashtra constituencies.
For now, all eyes are on the Rajya Sabha polls. Ahmed Patel needs 45 votes in the 176-member assembly. He has got 44 MLAs kept safe in Karnataka, but the remaining seven Congress leaders, who didn’t travel south, belong to Vaghela’s group. Also, three in the Karnataka lot are viewed as pro-Vaghela. Patel never had to cut things so fine. He is now banking on three non-Congress MLAs, including two from the Nationalist Congress Party.
IN ‘SAFE’ CUSTODY Congress MLAs from Gujarat camping at a resort near Bengaluru