Flut­ter in Congress Flock

Why party strong­man Ahmed Pa­tel is jit­tery on poll-eve

India Today - - STATES - By Uday Mahurkar

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

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