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With Amit Shah, Ahmed Patel in fray, all eyes on Gujarat Rajya Sabha elections

LiveMint logoLiveMint 02-08-2017 Maulik Pathak

Ahmedabad: All eyes are on the 8 August elections in Gujarat for the Rajya Sabha (RS), featuring two of the country’s top political strategists. Only one of them, it seems, has his work cut out.

While the elections are crucial for the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) with its party chief Amit Shah contesting for a RS seat for the first time, veteran Congress leader Ahmed Patel who is looking for a nomination for the fifth time is facing a tough fight.

Both Shah and Patel are credited with having crafted numerous election victories for their respective parties, in state as well as national elections.

Shah, who has filed his nomination as one of three BJP candidates for three seats from Gujarat is almost certain to win, given the large number of BJP MLAs in the state assembly who will be voting. His victory will pave way for a bigger role for the BJP in the centre.

Shah helped his party win various elections in Gujarat before taking a bigger role in national politics in the 2014 general election when he scripted the party’s stunning sweep in the politically crucial state of Uttar Pradesh, helping the BJP secure a majority in the Lok Sabha on its own. His recent big achievement was when the party scored a historic landslide victory in Uttar Pradesh assembly elections earlier this year. Known for his micro-planning and booth-committee management, some call him the modern day Chanakya.

“Rajya Sabha polls usually go uncontested. This time however things are different and the stakes are very high, especially for Congress. While the party is trying to keep its flock of MLAs together, it tried to check on some leaders who it feared would cross-vote by threatening to take stringent action. Congress’s Patel is facing a real tough challenge,” said Mumbai-based political analyst Jai Mrug.

RS polls in Gujarat are slated to be held next week for three seats. Besides Shah, the BJP has fielded Union textile minister Smriti Irani and Balwantsinh Rajput who recently quit Congress and joined the BJP. Rajput, a former Congress chief whip, is pitted against Patel.

As many as six MLAs from the Congress have resigned to join the BJP and this has reduced the party’s number in the state assembly to 51 MLAs.

Patel, who is the political secretary of Congress party president Sonia Gandhi, is credited for the party’s wins in 2004 and 2009 and for helping build the alliance with other parties to form the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance government. For Patel, who has been a Rajya Sabha MP from Bharuch since 1993, a loss in his home state would severely hurt his and the party’s prospects in the Gujarat assembly elections due this year.

The Congress has been out of power in Gujarat for over two decades and attempts at a revival haven’t met with much success so far. The party, which is busy trying to keep its flock together after its tallest leader in Gujarat Shankersinh Vaghela announced that he would quit Congress, is also faced with the threat of cross-voting.

The party has taken over 40 MLAs to a resort in Karnataka to shield them from being poached by the BJP. “BJP is on an unprecedented witch-hunt to win one Rajya Sabha seat,” Patel said in a tweet on Wednesday.

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