Senior Congress leader and party's top strategist Ahmed Patel breathed his last at the wee hours of Wednesday at a Gurugram hospital. The veteran leader, one of the closest aides of party president Sonia Gandhi and her political adviser, Patel (71) had contracted COVID-19 and later developed complications.
A party trouble-shooter, was a three-time member of Lok Sabha and was into his fifth term in the Rajya Sabha. However, his last election to the Rajya Sabha was not easy and he had overcome all sorts of challenges to beat the BJP in the 2017 Gujarat polls for the Upper House of Parliament.
The Rajya Sabha polls, held in August 2017, became a matter of personal prestige for Patel after the BJP led by the then president Amit Shah fought tooth and nail to defeat him. A loss to Patel, apart from being seen as a personal setback to Sonia, would have left Congress rank and file hugely demoralised in a state where Assembly elections were to take place later that year.
This was the first RS polls in Gujarat in two decades that saw a contest instead of official candidates of major parties getting elected unopposed.
The BJP had fielded three candidates - Amit Shah, Smriti Irani and Congress rebel Balwantsinh Rajput - even though it only had enough numbers to get two of them elected. The ruling party relied on rebel Congress MLAs and cross-voting.
Ahead of the polls, six Congress MLAs, including Rajput had resigned with the two joining the BJP with him, bringing down the Congress's strength in the 282-member House to 51 from 57. The BJP also hoped for cross-voting, which would've diminished Patel's chances of re-election. Two of them did, but late night dramatic developments saw the Election Commission reject the votes of the dissident MLAs for violating electoral rules.
Here is what happened
The Congress alleged that two rebel MLAs - Bholabhai Gohil and Raghavjibhai Patel - before casting their votes for Rajput, showed their ballots to Amit Shah in violation of rules. Before counting was taken up, a high-voltage drama unfolded at Nirvachan Sadan, the election commission's headquarters in New Delhi, as both Congress and BJP lined up to complain to the poll panel.
Congress' Randeep Surjewala and spokesman Shaktisinh Gohil claimed that the two disgruntled MLAs had shown their ballots to Shah. Three delegations each of the Congress and BJP made a dash for 'Nirvachan Sadan' within a span of two hours, with the former demanding that the votes of Gohil and Patel be declared invalid, and the latter insisting that counting be taken up "immediately".
The poll panel finally accepted the Congress's contention and asked the returning officer to reject the votes of its two MLAs and proceed with counting. The poll panel cancelled the two votes after viewing the video recording of the voting process, saying the two electors had "violated the voting procedure and secrecy of ballots."
According to the rules, voters for the Rajya Sabha elections have to show their ballots to authorised representative of their respective parties before casting them.
This brought down the requirement for an outright victory for a candidate to 44 from 45. Ahmed Patel secured 44, but would have won with even lesser number of votes given the fact that Rajput could clinch only 38.