New Delhi: Sharad Pawar's Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) did not vote for Ahmed Patel in the dramatic Rajya Sabha election that he won by a whisker, sources close to the senior Congress leader have said, in a revelation that not just answers this week's most-asked question, but also threatens to blow another hole in opposition unity.
- Congress's Ahmed Patel won the third Rajya Sabha seat from Gujarat
- Win came despite exit of Vaghela, defections allegedly encouraged by him
- Congress says he'll now try to pitch a third front before state polls
The Congress sources also alleged that the NCP is now in talks with former Congress leader Shankersinh Vaghela to float a new party which will contest the Gujarat assembly elections at the end of the year, turning it into a three-party contest.
The aim of the new outfit, they claimed, would be to split votes against the BJP, which has ruled Gujarat for the last 20 years, to prevent benefit to the Congress from any anti-incumbency sentiment. In other words, it will play the B team of the BJP, the Congress sources said.
Amid defections and cross-voting in his party, Ahmed Patel won exactly the 44 votes he needed to clinch his Rajya Sabha seat. He got 43 from the Congress and one from someone who was not in his party.
There were at least three claimants - the Janata Dal United's lone legislator in Gujarat Chhotubhai Vasava said he had voted for Mr Patel, as did rebel BJP leader Nalin Kotadiya.
Then there was the NCP, the Congress' partner in an 18-member bloc of parties that is exploring opposition unity beyond Parliament and leading up to the 2019 national election, and which has consistently denied leaning towards the BJP. The NCP said it had ordered its two Gujarat legislators to vote for Ahmed Patel and was apologetic that one of them rebelled and voted for the BJP. The other, the party asserted had voted for Ahmed Patel, inferring that his vote won the Congress leader his fifth Rajya Sabha term.
It was the JDU's Chhotubhai Vasava who came through for good friend Ahmed Patel, sources said today.
The Congress' disarray just ahead of the Rajya Sabha election was allegedly engineered by Shankersinh Vaghela, angry at not being projected as presumptive chief minister of the party, to prevent Ahmed Patel's election to the upper house.
Six of Mr Vaghela's loyalists quit the Congress before the election and he and seven others voted against Ahmed Patel, whose win was also aided by the Election Commission accepting the Congress' plea to disqualify the votes of two of the rebels.
They were all thrown out of the party after the election and all, except Shankersinh Vaghela will join the BJP, which has ruled Gujarat for the last two decades. Those set to join the party include Mr Vaghela's son, Mahendrasinh Vaghela, who said his father will join no party.