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Senior Congress leader Ahmed Patel could struggle to get re-elected to the Rajya Sabha after three Congress legislators in the Gujarat assembly quit the party on Thursday. One of the three, Balwantsinh Rajput, who was also the Congress chief whip in the assembly, will now be a Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) candidate for the Rajya Sabha elections.
Three of the total 11 Rajya Sabha members from Gujarat retire next month. Elections to these three seats are scheduled for August 8. The three include BJP's Smriti Irani and Congress's Patel. On Wednesday, BJP had announced candidates for two of the seats. It said Irani will contest again and it decided to field party chief Amit Shah on the second seat. Patel filed his nomination papers for the contest on Wednesday.
On Thursday, three Congress legislators, considered close to rebel Congress leader Shankersinh Vaghela, quit the party. Apart from Rajput, Tejashreeben Patel and Prahlad Patel also quit the party. This has brought Congress's tally to 54 in the 182-seat assembly.
Rajput is related to Vaghela as the former's son has married latter's grand-daughter. Last week, Vaghela left the Congress and also resigned as the Leader of Opposition. However, he continues to be an MLA.
Congress' Patel, the political secretary to party president Sonia Gandhi, could win if he musters the support of 47 legislators. But there are fears that several more Congress MLAs could vote in favour of the BJP candidate. Elections to the Gujarat assembly are due by the end of the year, and Congress legislators could vote for the BJP candidate knowing their disqualification would be short-lived.
In the presidential elections, Opposition candidate Meira Kumar could garner votes of only 49 legislators against the Congress's then strength of 57 in the assembly. Congress had suspected that as many as 11 of its legislators voted for National Democratic Alliance candidate Ram Nath Kovind. These legislators are said to be Vaghela supporters. The Congress candidate would hope for the support of two Nationalist Congress Party legislators and one Janata Dal (United) MLA.
After quitting the party, Rajput said he was upset with the Congress due to the allegations being levelled against him. "It is sad that some persons (in the Congress) have started pointing fingers at me due to my family ties (with Vaghela). That is why I gave my resignation," he said.
Tejashreeben Patel said the Congress appears clueless about how to prepare and win the upcoming assembly polls in Gujarat. "Since the last one-and-a-half years, many of us have been telling the party leaders to give prominent posts to Patels to get their votes in the assembly polls. But, nothing was done," she said. There has been a sustained Patidard agitation against the ruling BJP in Gujarat.