Voting is underway in Gujarat today for the Rajya Sabha elections in which Ahmed Patel, the influential political secretary to Congress chief Sonia Gandhi, and BJP's Amit Shah, Smriti Irani and Balwantsinh Rajput are in fray. As voting began for three RS seats, Patel expressed confidence that he will win. However, former Congress stalwart Shankersinh Vaghela, after casting his vote, told reporters, "As Ahmed Patel is going to lose, I have not given my vote to him." The elections have turned into a high-stake battle for the Congress in the backdrop of turbulence in the party following the surprise exit of Vaghela and the resignation of six of its MLAs recently. BJP president Amit Shah, who is also an MLA from Gujarat, also came to cast his vote. Vaghela's son Mahendrasinh Vaghela was seen touching the feet of Shah when he went inside. Earlier, a bus carrying 44 Congress MLAs reached the Swarnim Sankul in the state secretariat here from a resort in Anand this morning. The MLAs flashed victory signs while going inside the voting centre. The Congress is also banking on the support of two NCP MLAs, and one each of the JD(U) and the Gujarat Parivartan Party (GPP). The NCP MLAs - Kandhal Jadeja and Jayant Patel - came to vote in the early hours, but did not reveal their preference. "You will come to know whom I voted for after voting is completed," Jadeja said. Jadeja told reporters yesterday that he and Jayant Patel have been asked to cast their first preference votes in favour of Rajput. JD(U) leader Chotubhai Vasava also did not reveal whom he voted for. "I have cast my vote in national interest," Vasava told reporters. Patel requires 45 votes to sail through his fifth RS election. The Congress has a clear support of 44 MLAs. Some MLAs of his group like Raghavji Patel and Dharmendrasinh Jadeja also came out and said that they have voted for the BJP. A candidate will require 45 votes for a straight win in the poll, and the BJP with 121 MLAs can secure easy victories for BJP chief Shah and Union minister Irani.
The party will be left with 31 surplus votes for Rajput, who will require the backing of rebel MLAs of the Congress and smaller parties to win. Rajput till recently was Congress' chief whip in the House. It is after a gap of about two decades that a contest is happening in Rajya Sabha polls in Gujarat, where official nominees of major parties used to get elected unopposed, after the BJP fielded a Congress rebel against Patel, who is seeking a fifth term. According to Election Commission officials, a candidate would require one-fourth of the total number of votes plus one to get elected. This would mean a contestant has to muster 45 votes. The MLAs have to give their preferential votes indicating first choice, second, third, fourth (as per number of candidates) or they can choose NOTA, they said. The Congress, which has been out of power in the state for over a decade-and-a-half now, was rattled by the surprise exit of party stalwart Vaghela recently. It was jolted further when its six MLAs resigned from the Assembly. Three of them later joined BJP, setting off alarm bells in the party in Gujarat where Assembly elections are due later this year. The beleaguered Congress then flew its 44 MLAs to Bengaluru to ward off any threat of "poaching" by the BJP.
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