Congress Losses In Gujarat Just Climbed To 5. Danger Mark For Ahmed Patel

As BJP chief Amit Shah filed his nomination this morning for next week's Rajya Sabha elections, the Gujarat Congress continues to bleed with two more legislators quitting the party. The tally since yesterday is five. Three had quit yesterday, promptly joining the BJP in what is seen as political vengeance designed by veteran politician Shankersinh Vaghela, who exited the party last week.

Mr Vaghela's close relative Balwantsinh Rajput, who was the Congress' Chief Whip in the assembly till yesterday, will also file papers today to contest the Rajya Sabha elections. He is being fielded by the BJP in an attempt to prevent Ahmed Patel, political advisor to Congress President Sonia Gandhi, from getting re-elected to the Upper House of Parliament.
A defeat for Ahmed Patel will not just dent his party's morale, but will also politically diminish the Congress and its Gandhis further in Gujarat ahead of assembly polls this year and the 2019 national election.

The two legislators who have quit today are Mansinh Chauhan, who was a minister when Mr Vaghela was Chief Minister of Gujarat and Sanabhai Chaudhary.
Apart from Mr Rajput, senior leader Tejashree Patel and PI Patel had quit yesterday, with all three welcomed soon to the BJP by the party's state chief Jitendra Vaghani.
Elections will be held for three Rajya Sabha seats in Gujarat on August 8. For the two that it will win with ease, the BJP has nominated Mr Shah, a five-term Gujarat legislator who will make his debut in Parliament, and union minister Smriti Irani, whose Rajya Sabha term ends next month.

It is for the third seat that is has named Balwantsinh Rajput to contest against Ahmed Patel, hoping for a repeat of last week when about 11 Congress MLAs loyal to Mr Vaghela's voted for Ram Nath Kovind as President of India instead of Meira Kumar, the nominee of the Congress and 17 other opposition parties.

The cross-voting was seen as a signal from Mr Vagehla to the Congress that it had underestimated his ability to damage the party. Mr Vaghela's estrangement with his party of more than a decade is built on the Congress refusing to project him as presumptive chief minister for the assembly elections later this year.

The 77-year-old has said he will not return to his old party the BJP, which he quit in 1996, but his meetings with Amit Shah and other BJP leaders in the months leading up to his break-up with the Congress have provoked speculation that the north Gujarat heavyweight has been enlisted as the party's B team to play spoiler for the Congress.




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