GANDHINAGAR: Voting began at 9 this morning in a hall in the Gujarat state secretariat in Gandhinagar this morning in a Rajya Sabha election that has become a huge prestige battle between the BJP and the Congress. While BJP chief Amit Shah, who makes his debut in Parliament, and union minister Smriti Irani will be elected from two seats, senior Congress leader Ahmed Patel is struggling to get re-elected from the third with the BJP determined to stop him. In a tight battle of numbers that is expected to go down to the wire, two legislators from Sharad Pawar’s NCP will play a key role. Voting ends at 4 pm.
1.Less than an hour into voting, veteran politician Shankersinh Vagehla called the election, declaring Ahmad Patel defeated. Mr Vaghela, seen to have scripted a rebellion in the Congress as revenge for the party sidelining him, said Mr Patel would “not even win 40 votes.” He confirmed he had voted against Mr Patel, saying, “Who will vote for a losing candidate.”
2.Ahmed Patel needs 45 votes to win back his Rajya Sabha seat. He is counting on 44 Congress MLAs to support him plus the NCP’s two and a lone Janata Dal (United)’s legislator known to be close to the Congress leader. Mr Patel is Congress president Sonia Gandhi’s political secretary, but the prospect of a defeat today has made both him and his party stress that his important party role has nothing to do with today’s election.
3.Sharad Pawar told NDTV early this morning that he has asked both his MLAs to vote for Ahmed Patel. But one of them, Kandhal Jadeja, has been branded a “rebel” by the party – he said last night that he had been asked to vote for the BJP’s Balwantsinh Rajput, who has challenged Ahmed Patel for the third Rajya Sabha seat.
4.The BJP has said it expects at least two or three of the 44 Congress MLAs to cross-vote and back its candidate – these are all Congress legislators who the opposition party sequestered at resorts in Bengaluru and Gujarat’s Anand for the last 10 days to prevent defections after six of its MLAs resigned, three joining the BJP.
5.The six who resigned can’t vote and that has brought the strength of the 182-seat Gujarat Assembly down to 176. Each of the four candidates contesting today has to win 45 first preference votes – which means they have to be the first preference of 45 Gujarat legislators.
6.45 of the BJP’s 121 MLAs will choose Amit Shah as their first preference, 45 will choose Smriti Irani, and the remaining 31 will choose Balwantsinh Rajput.
7.The Congress has 51 legislators in the assembly, including Shankersinh Vaghela, who announced he was exiting the party two weeks ago but remains a legislator. The Congress has issued a whip or formal order for all its legislators to vote for Ahmed Patel warning that defiance will attract career-altering penalty.
8.But at least six of these 51 are known loyalists of Shankersinh Vaghela and the party is not counting on them at all. They were not among the 43 who were flown to Bengaluru for safe-keeping. A defeat today will severely dent Congress morale ahead of assembly elections and in the run-up to the 2019 national election.
9.If neither Ahmed Patel nor the BJP’s Balwantsinh Rajput gets 45 votes to win directly, second preference votes of each MLA will be counted. That will mean it’s game over for Ahmed Patel, given the BJP’s far superior numbers.
10.Today’s election allows an MLA to choose None of the Above or NOTA. Sharad Pawar said the NCP has asked rebel Kandhal Jadeja to choose NOTA rather than vote for the BJP.