NEW DELHI/GANDHINAGAR: Long before last vote in Gandhinagar was cast for the three seats for Rajya Sabha from Gujarat, senior Congress leader Ahmed Patel conceded he had never seen "such a tense and bitter election battle". For two weeks, the election - that would have been a walkover in the past - had turned into a prestige battle, with the BJP determined to make the Congress sweat for this one seat.
It wasn't just because of how this seat would alter the numerical strength in the Rajya Sabha where the BJP and not the Congress already is the single largest party. But a possible defeat would have been demoralising for the Congress that hopes to challenge the ruling BJP government in assembly elections just a few months down the line. The optics of the Congress president Sonia Gandhi's political advisor's exit from the Rajya Sabha at a time BJP president Amit Shah made his debut in parliament would have the stinging defeat more painful. It would have also called to question his skills as a strategist.
The 67-year-old Congress leader was under pressure but he did not blink.
Ahmed Patel, who had announced his victory with the tweet, "Satyamev Jayate" (Truth shall triumph) in the early hours of Wednesday said. He called his election not just his victory but the defeat of what called "the most blatant use of money power, muscle power and abuse of state machinery". The official announcement of the election that went down to the wire came much later, around 3 am.
"It was a tough election," he said to television cameras, this time a broad smile on his face and supporters bursting firecrackers and distributing sweets in Delhi and Gujarat.
Mr Patel was the man of the moment.
Less than an hour into voting on Tuesday, veteran politician Shankersinh Vaghela who had quit the Congress and designed the rebellion by six more lawmakers, had declared Ahmed Patel would "not even win 40 votes". Three joined the BJP, one of them was Mr Vaghela's relative, Balwantsinh Rajput, the candidate who was fielded against Ahmed Patel.
According to the results declared by Returning Officer BB Swain, the BJP's Mr Rajput scored 38 votes against Ahmed Patel's 44. It helped that the Election Commission had cancelled the votes of two Congress rebels who had voted for the BJP because they had shown their ballot papers to a BJP leader.
The BJP, which like the Congress, had pitched its best legal minds including Finance Minister Arun Jaitley and Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad, had contended that the Congress had petitioned the Election Commission because the party knew it was going to lose. Also, it was argued that there was too late for the election commission to intervene because the votes had been cast.
The commission, however, rejected this contention pointing that the rules did not spell out how to deal with this situation. But since the law did not have sufficient provisions to deal with the situation, the election commission said it could draw on its constitutional powers to fill this vacuum.