The Gujarat Rajya Sabha elections, which took place on Tuesday, should not have gone down to the wire. Based on earlier numbers in the Gujarat Assembly, the Bharatiya Janata Party was on course to comfortably win two seats and the Congress one. The headlines would then have been about BJP President Amit Shah making his entry into the House of Elders, a potent symbol of the change in national politics. Instead, with the results only coming out around 2 am on Wednesday, the morning’s headlines have all focused on senior Congress leader Ahmed Patel being re-elected by a tight margin.
The BJP had spent the previous weeks furiously trying to alter the ground in Gujarat in such a manner that would send both a personal and political message ahead of assembly elections in the state. They convinced six Members of Legislative Assembly to leave the Congress, three of whom said they would vote for the BJP. They propped up one of the Congress turncoats as their candidate in place of Ahmed Patel. The Congress was forced to fly its flock out to a resort in Bengaluru in the hopes of keeping them united. And on Tuesday evening, after the Congress complained that two rebel Congress cross-voters had violated secrecy rules, the BJP sent five Union ministers to the Election Commission in the hopes of convincing the body to order those votes to be kept valid.
All of this was to be a message to both the local unit as well as cadres nationally that the BJP was powerful enough to grab the seat of Ahmed Patel, known to be close to Congress President Sonia Gandhi and one of the key backroom dealers of the party. The narrative of Ahmed Patel being defeated as Amit Shah entered the Rajya Sabha was too tempting. Especially because it also coincided with the weeks in which the BJP had become the very first non-Congress outfit to be the single-largest party in the Rajya Sabha, though still far short of a majority.
Instead, after all the drama of the last few weeks and the frenetic attempts to persuade the Election Commission on Tuesday night, the decision went the Congress way. Two Congress cross-votes were declared invalid, and Patel eked out a victory. And all of the headlines on Wednesday morning reflect this, making the narrative about Ahmed Patel’s win and not Amit Shah’s entry into the Rajya Sabha. What should have been a straightforward race suddenly went down to the wire, because of the BJP’s desire to prove a point, but in failing to do so, the Congress now has an underdog story to sell.
Almost every headline of the major papers, which managed to capture the news despite the late declaration of results, used some variation of Ahmed Patel managing to outsmart Amit Shah, at least on this occasion.
The Times of India went with “Amit’s bid to torpedo Ahmed misfires.” The Indian Express said “Patel gets in after EC gets two out”, a reference to the two Congress cross-votes that were invalidated, clearing Patel’s path to re-election.
Dainik Jagran said “Ahmed Patel hi nikle baazigar”, or Ahmed Patel ends up on top, while the Ahmedabad Mirror called it a “Shahi win for the Congress. Gujarati paper Divya Bhaskar went with “In the end, Ahmed won.”