Congress party’s Ahmed Patel on Wednesday dealt a severe blow to the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) when he won the Rajya Sabha election in Gujarat in a cliffhanger contest in which the top BJP leadership staked its all by backing a Congress defector.
BJP president Amit Shah also won the election to make his debut in Parliament while federal minister Smriti Irani got another term in the Upper House.
Patel got 44 votes that was just enough to beat his rival Congress defector Balwantsinh Rajput and earn a fifth term in Rajya Sabha while Shah and Irani got 46 and 45 votes respectively in the counting that was delayed by over nine hours because of the Congress challenge in the Election Commission first and the BJP’s objections before the returning officer past midnight.
Celebrations broke out in the Congress camp with workers setting off firecrackers and distributing sweets as Patel reacted saying “truth alone triumphs”.
“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,” he tweeted.
Patel thanked his party MLAs, workers and the leadership for the victory and said under Rahul Gandhi’s leadership, the Congress will get strength and win Gujarat assembly election. Senior Congress leader P Chidambaram, who was part of a Congress delegation that met the Election Commission (EC) on Tuesday seeking rejection of votes of two Congress rebels said: “Money, muscle and manipulation could not win in the Gujarat Rajya Sabha elections.”
Meanwhile, the Congress expelled eight rebel MLAs, including former chief minister Shankersinh Vaghela, for six years for anti-party activities, Gujarat Congress spokesperson Manish Doshi said.
The victory that came as a major boost to Congress has been battered in many elections in the last three years and did not come easily given the fact that the whole of Tuesday was marked by high drama and allegations, counter-allegations and high-pitched legal battle in the EC over votes of two rebel Congress MLAs.
The first setback for the BJP came after the poll panel upheld the Congress complaint seeking rejection of the two votes by Bhola Bhai Gohil and Raghavji Bhai Patel, both loyalists of Shankarsinh Vaghela, who had shown their ballots to Shah and Irani against conduct of election Rules.
The EC rejected the arguments of a high-powered BJP delegation led by Arun Jaitley that the commission had no power to intervene in the matter as returning officer is the statutory authority to decide the validity or otherwise of ballot paper.
This was countered by the Congress delegation that asserted the EC was the only authority to decide on the issue in keeping with the precedents set by it in Haryana last year and in Rajasthan in 2000.
In the Gujarat assembly with an effective strength of 176 MLAs, the numbers were enough for a comfortable victory for two BJP candidates and one of Congress.
Meanwhile, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee termed Patel’s victory as the triumph of democracy over autocracy.
“Everybody has seen what happened in Gujarat on Tuesday. It was a fight between democracy and autocracy throughout the night and we are happy that democracy has come out victorious in the end,” Mamata said at a public meeting in West Midnapore.