Despite setback, Congress confident of pulling off RS success in Gujarat

Congress MP Rahul Gandhi speaks to media, at Parlaiment in New Delhi. PTI
Despite the resignations of five of its members of the legislative assembly (MLAs), the Gujarat unit of the Congress is confident of repeating past successes in the coming Rajya Sabha elections.

The state will see polls to the Upper House for four seats, for which the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is fielding three candidates and the Congress two.

The BJP has nominated Abhay Bharadwaj, Ramilaben Bara, and Narhari Amin while the Congress’ candidates are heavyweights Bharatsinh Solanki and Shaktisinh Gohil.

However, the Congress’ dreams of a smooth ride were shattered when five of its MLAs — Mangal Gavit, Pradhymansinh Jadeja, Soma Patel, J V Kakadia, and Pravin Maru —  resigned.

On the one hand, the move by the five MLAs led to exchanges between the BJP and the Congress, each blaming the other for the resignations. On the other hand, because of this, the Congress packed off its remaining MLAs to Jaipur to prevent more switchovers.

For instance, in the 182-member Assembly, the Congress had 73 seats but its strength has come down to 68. 

There are now 175 MLAs in the Assembly. They include the BJP’s 103, the Bharatiya Tribal Party’s two, the Nationalist Congress Party’s (NCP’s) one, and one Independent.  Two seats are vacant from before.

The polls, to be held on March 26, require 36 first-preference votes for each of the four seats. 

The Congress, with 68 MLAs, can’t win two seats because it needs 72. Similarly, the BJP needs 111 votes to comfortably win all the seats it is contesting. 

In fact, the reason the Congress has gone ahead with two nominations is because even the BJP does not have the numbers of its own to get its three candidates elected.

As of now, both the BJP and the Congress are dependent on others and expecting cross-voting. 

Recently, Gujarat Pradesh Congress Committee (GPCC) chief Amit Chavda said the party was in talks with the NCP and the Bharatiya Tribal Party, apart from independent MLA Jignesh Mevani.

“Looking at the numbers, we are confident of winning the polls,” said Manish Doshi, Gujarat Congress spokesperson.

However, NCP MLA Kandhal Jadeja has said he will vote for the BJP candidates. The Congress is training its MLAs on how first- and second-preference voting works in the Rajya Sabha polls. The party is confident of winning the assembly seats that have become vacant because of the resignations. 

“In the past too, when resignations happened, we won because the voters recognised the betrayal. Congress functionaries work with more passion in seats where they have been betrayed,” Doshi added.

In May 2019, the BJP had trounced the Congress in bypolls held for four assembly seats of Unjha, Dhangadhra, Manavadar, and Jamnagar Rural. Of these, Unjha, Dhangadhra and Manavadar were won by three Congress turncoats Asha Patel, Parsottam Sabaria, and Jawahar Chavda on the BJP ticket.

The bypolls, held alongside the Lok Sabha elections, brought down the Congress’ tally in the Gujarat Assembly from 77, won in 2017, to 73.

However, political analysts too say the Congress could will win back those seats in bypolls.

“Most of these seats are in regions where farmers and jobless youngsters are unhappy with the government. Hence, it may be difficult for the BJP to win those five seats,” said Achyut Yagnik, a political analyst.

Similarly, according to Gaurang Jani, another political analyst, the Congress’ history has shown it could win. “The Congress has been able to reclaim seats where resignations took place.”

However, Jani said the party’s hold in Gujarat was loosening and questions had risen over its state leadership’s capabilities.

In 2017, more than 12 legislators, including former chief minister Shankarsinh Vaghela, left the Congress right before the elections to three Rajya Sabha seats. However, that did not come in the way of Congress veteran Ahmed Patel’s victory.

Later in 2019, when External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar contested as the BJP’s Rajya Sabha candidate from Gujarat, Congress MLA Alpesh Thakor switched to the BJP with his supporters.

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