Gujarat Poll Results: Praful Patel said scenario could have been different if Congress aligned with NCP
The Congress was at the receiving end of taunts and jibes as the trends in the Gujarat assembly elections became clear enough to show a BJP victory in the state. Senior BJP ministers, including Manohar Parrikar and Rajnath Singh did not pull any punches. Amid all this, a curious message came from Congress's former ally Praful Patel, a leader of the Nationalist Congress Party.
The Congress had put up a spirited fight under Rahul Gandhi, but the BJP has pulled ahead in the counting. It is currently leading in more than 92 seats, which is the minimum required for a victory in the 182-member assembly. The Congress is trailing, being ahead only on around 80 seats.
Mr Patel said The Gujarat results could have been "different" had the Congress had aligned with his party, Mr Patel was quoted as saying by news agency IANS. "If they (Congress) would have formed an alliance with the NCP, then it would have been fruitful, and things could have been different," he told reporters outside parliament, where the winter session started on Friday.
Mr Patel, who had been a Union minister in the UPA government, also said the Congress had a "weak presence" in rural areas of Gujarat, in contrast to the BJP. This too, led to its failure, he added.
The party headed by Sharad Pawar had been part of the UPA government at the Centre for a decade since 2004. But the alliance split ahead of the Maharashtra elections over the Congress leadership's support for then Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan, whom the NCP had accused of corruption.
The NCP had contested the 2007 and 2012 assembly elections in Gujarat in alliance with the Congress. While the tie-up had not been able to make a dent in the BJP's popularity, the NCP had managed to win 3 seats the first time and two the second.
In November, the two parties had initiated talks to chalk out an alliance ahead of the assembly elections. But the talks soon fell through following disagreement over seat sharing. The NCP had asked for 16 seats, which the Congress had been unwilling to agree to. Also the Congress was miffed after two lawmakers of the NCP voted against Ahmed Patel in the Rajya Sabha elections, despite an understanding with Mr Pawar's party. Days later, around 500 NCP cadres had joined the Congress.
Though the NCP had fielded 72 candidates this time, trends show that only one is ahead in the elections. But with the party fielding many of its candidates in Surat, there was an increased chance of Congress losing a chunk of its voters to the NCP.
The Congress had been hoping for big gains in Surat, an area dominated by small traders, who are said to be upset with the government over the demonetization and the Goods and Services Tax. The area is also a stronghold of Patidars, who have been demanding quota in jobs and education. The Congress had crafted an alliance with Hardik Patel, the 24-year-old face of the Patidar agitation.