The Gujarat Assembly has 182 seats but is now left with 176 MLAs who exercised their franchise after resignations of six Congress legislators last month. There are four contestants for three seats.
The veteran leader, who had smooth run during his last four terms, is fighting his career's toughest electoral battle with his back to the wall. BJP chief Amit Shah, Union Minister Smriti Irani and the third candidate, Congress turncoat Balwantsinh Rajput, who joined the BJP, and a host of BJP leaders, on the other hand, posed for media cameras showing victory signs.
Needing 45 first preference votes for a clean victory, Ahmed Patel's day began with shockers -- from rebel leader Shankersinh Vaghela, who along with five of his supporters, cross-voted for the Bharatiya Janata Party.
Not only this, the maverick Vaghela, who had quit on his birthday on July 21, claimed the confidence that Patel had reposed in the 44 Congress MLAs who were flown to Bengaluru to prevent "poaching" from the BJP, was misplaced.
Vaghela, or Bapu as he is called, claimed: "Four-five more MLAs from the 44 that the Congress is banking upon are also not going to vote for the party." He was not entirely wrong as one of them, Karamsinh Makwana, indeed reportedly cross-voted for the BJP. The suspense about the rest is locked in the ballot boxes.
As for himself, Vaghela told reporters: "I have not voted for the Congress because Ahmed Patel is not going to win and there is no point wasting a vote. We have pleaded so many times to listen to the grievances of the MLAs but it is unfortunate that they did not listen."
Asked about cross-voting by Vaghela and his supporters, Patel shrugged: "So what (we never counted them)."
Patel has been banking upon the "unflinching support" of the 44 MLAs, two from the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) and one of Janata Dal-United.
However, one NCP MLA, Kandhal Jadeja, touched the feet of BJP chief Amit Shah when he arrived to vote and exercised his franchise for the BJP before he left for Vaghela's residence "for a luncheon meeting".
The other NCP MLA, Jayant Patel Bosky, is believed to have voted for Patel and so has Janata Dal-United's Chhotubhai Vasava.
A strong tribal leader of South Gujarat, Vasava said: "Mainey desh ke liye vote diya hain (I have voted for the country)". Hours later, he said, "I felt pity for the Congress, so I voted." Sources close to him confirmed to IANS that he put his stamp on Patel's candidature.
Over a dozen of the 44, who emerged after polling, claimed they had backed the official nominee.
But sources in the BJP and close to Vaghela insist that it will not be easy for the veteran of four Rajya Sabha terms.
"Not all 44 have voted for him, just wait and watch," a leader close to Vaghela said.
Earlier, when the 44 MLAs alighted from a bus that brought them to Swarnim Sankul Complex in Gandhinagar, Gujarat BJP President Jitubhai Vaghani and other leaders welcomed them. Several of them shook hands with the BJP leaders. Vaghani even patted the cheeks of one of them.
With 122 MLAs, on the other hand, Amit Shah and Smriti Irani will win, while the third BJP candidate Balwantsinh Rajput, a Congress turncoat, may lose if Ahmed Patel wins.
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