Gujarat RS poll turns into high-stakes battle

All the 44 Congress MLAs who were staying at Bengaluru's Eagleton Resort arrived in Neejanand Resort in Anand district of Gujarat on Monday.

Of the six MLAs who resigned from the Assembly, three instantly joined the ruling BJP and one of them - Balwantsinh Rajput - became saffron party's candidate for the RS polls along with BJP president Amit Shah and Union Minister Smriti Irani.

Desperate to keep its flock together, Congress moved 44 of its MLAs to yet another resort in Gujarat after they were flown back from Bengaluru where they were holed up in a resort owned by a Congress minister.

The elections seem to be a prestige battle for Congress and will also decide the political future of Patel, who also serves as a political adviser to Congress president Sonia Gandhi. The BJP then sprang a surprise by fielding Rajput as its third candidate.

The Rajya Sabha election in Gujarat on Tuesday, which will end the fortnight-long political drama around senior Congress leader Ahmed Patel's candidature, seems to be going down to the wire.

These developments are a worry for not only the current election but the one for the state assembly to be held next year as well. There are two Chanakyas who have put in their political acumen to test. BJP Chanakya Amit Shah and Congress Chanakya Ahmed Patel have fought a crucial war for a month to decide who holds more political clout.

According to Congress sources, 44 MLAs presently kept at a private resort near Anand in Gujarat will directly reach to Gandhinagar tomorrow morning.

While it may be wrong to blame Patel for the induction of "outsiders" and the marginalisation of "insiders" in the Congress, since the final call was always that of Sonia Gandhi, yet in common perception he was perceived to be the most consequential figure in every action of the top leadership. Rejecting the idea of a united opposition as "a myth", he said that the Congress is a one-family party while his Bharatiya Janata Party is a cadre-based party. Six other Congress MLAs quit the assembly, bringing the Congress strength down from 57 to 51 - including Vaghela. All the MLAs are with me despite the BJP trying to break the MLAs.

The BJP has fielded a relative of Mr Vaghela, Balwantsinh Rajput, as its candidate against Mr Patel, just hours after it acquired him from the Congress.

Speaking to the media, senior Congress leader Ahmad Patel said that all the legislatures were together and were confident of victory in the poll. But on the voting eve, things looked iffy for a once-powerful political secretary to the party president.

The officials did not raid the Gujarat MLAs but whisked away Shivakumar to his bungalow in the city for questioning him following the seizure of documents, cash, jewellery and property records made in his house.

Vanessa Coleman