Not in touch with Congress MLAs: Vaghela

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In a major setback to political leader Ahmed Patel, the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) on Monday announced that it will vote for Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in upcoming Rajya Sabha Polls in Gujarat.

The Congress is also expecting to get the support of two MLAs of NCP and one MLA of JD (U).

On Tuesday, the legislators will directly go to state capital Gandhinagar to vote for the party's Rajya Sabha nominee Ahmed Patel.

The Congress has the strength of 51 in the House but it can not bank upon the seven MLAs who refused to go to Bengaluru.

After witnessing cross voting during the Presidential polls, Congress has issued strict warnings to its legislators that any move to defy the party's order to vote for Mr. Patel will attract a heavy penalty, including legal action that could mean being barred from contesting elections. "The Congress will win comfortably", Patel told reporters. On the other hand, the BJP has 122 MLAs and both Shah and Irani are expected to win hands down.

This implies that of the 121 MLAs of the BJP, 45 will choose Amit Shah as their first preference, 45 will choose Smriti Irani, and the remaining 31 will choose Balwantsinh Rajput.

But with the possibility of rampant cross-voting (11 Congress MLAs cross-voted for the NDA's Presidential candidate Ram Nath Kovind in July), more suspected desertions and uncertainties of NCP votes, Patel's election has turned crucial.

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Facing the toughest electoral battle of his career, Congress chief Sonia Gandhi's political secretary Ahmed Patel scrounged for every vote as polling for three Rajya Sabha seats in Gujarat progressed on Tuesday.

BJP chief Amit Shah will be completing three years in office on Wednesday even while he seeks to engage the party workers to uninterrupted campaigns. These MLAs were flown back to Gujarat for the voting.

Ahmed Patel, who today met Congress MLAs after they returned from their Bengaluru sojourn, said he was confident of his victory. Vaghela had resigned from Congress ahead of the exit of the six MLAs. 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 the counting. Meanwhile, the Congress too covered some ground and the difference in its vote share vis-a vis the BJP was just around eight percent. The vote is the personal property of an MLA (for the Rajya Sabha election).

If NCP MLA's claim comes true, it would be uphill task for Ahmed Patel to retain his seat for the fifth time.

Two rebel Congress MLAs, Raghavji Patel and Bholabhai Gohil, displayed their ballot paper before the BJP agent as well as the Congress counterpart, which was challenged by senior Congress leaders. "But the Rajya Sabha election is an example of political game now", Patel told media here. This would mean a contestant has to muster 45 votes.

Left with 31 surplus votes after ensuring the election of BJP President Amit Shah and Union Minister Smriti Irani, the BJP chose to go for the kill by fielding a third candidate Balwantsinh Rajput, who till last month was with the Congress.