The victory of the Congress in the bitterly fought Rajya Sabha elections in Gujarat is being seen as more than just giving party veteran Ahmed Patel another six years in the upper house. The party, still reeling from the serial defections of its MLAs in the state, sees it as a much-needed morale booster in the months before assembly elections. But there is also a lot of hard work to be done, Patel tells ThePrint Deputy Editor Anubhuti Vishnoi in a telephone interview. Excerpts:
This has probably been the most high-voltage Rajya Sabha election in recent years. Did you anticipate it would be so tough?
No, not in the beginning but later I realised that they (BJP), for whatever reason, wanted to target me. A whole lot of hype was built. I did not foresee that or that the whole government machinery and agencies would be deployed to make the election difficult.
Was it a prestige battle because you are the political secretary to the Congress president?
I cannot really say. That is for the BJP to answer. As far as I am concerned, I was the Congress candidate for the Rajya Sabha election.
You did finally win but the Gujarat Congress has splintered ahead of the state assembly elections. Two of the Congress MLAs defected to vote for your BJP rival on Tuesday. Your comments.
Some of it was anticipated and some did come all of a sudden. Shankersinh Vaghela wanted to become the PCC chief and that was not agreeable to both the state unit and the party high command. That is why he quit. Those who have defected are also part of the same group. So that part was not a surprise.
What about the state of the Congress? What is its strategy to counter the electoral might of BJP?
We worked very hard for this election and the victory has helped boost the workers’ morale considerably. They are totally charged up and we intend to take this ahead. There is a lot to be done and lot of hard work ahead. We need to devise a state-by-state strategy in great detail. The Congress vice-president is already doing a lot of work in that direction.
One of the NCP MLAs voted against you in the Rajya Sabha polls. Does it impact the UPA alliance with NCP?
You have to see it as a state-level issue. That was the state element to the Rajya Sabha election. I don’t see why it should impact us nationally. I don’t think it will have any bearing on our relationship with NCP.
What about your former ‘mahagathbandhan’ partner, JD(U)?
Chhotubhai Vasava openly supported us. He does not agree with Nitish Kumar’s decision. So he voted to his conscience and for us.
This election once again makes you the only MP from the minority community from Gujarat. How do you see this?
There may be some others in the state assembly. While I do not see this as a minority/majority community issue, our party clearly stands for the development and representation of all.
What about the role of the Election Commission? You had expressed reservations over the NOTA option.
Initially, I did have apprehensions about certain things. I did object to the EC suddenly announcing the NOTA option after elections were notified. However, I appreciate how the commission worked impartially through this election finally.