Gandhinagar, July 26 : The Congress heaved a sigh of relief on Wednesday when rebel leader Shankersinh Vaghela pledged support to Congress President Sonia Gandhi’s political secretary Ahmed Patel who filed his nomination for the August 8 Rajya Sabha election here.
Allaying fears that he might influence a section of legislators to vote against Patel, Vaghela, who quit the Congress on his 77th birthday on July 21, said: “I will vote for Ahmed Patel provided Ashok Gehlot (party General Secretary in charge of Gujarat) withdraws his irresponsible statements of Tuesday when he spoke on CBI and ED raids on me.
“I have known Ahmed bhai since 1977. He even came to my house last night and offered that I contest the Rajya Sabha Seat but I told him the seat is earmarked for him. My vote is reserved for Ahmed bhai,” Vaghela added.
Vaghela asserted that for this, Gehlot would have to withdraw his “irresponsible statements made without checking facts and defaming someone. This holds for other leaders too. Otherwise, I will resign even before the Rajya Sabha election”.
Vaghela, who quit as Leader of Opposition, had said he will continue as an MLA till the elections to the Upper House on August 8. He is believed to have the backing of at least a dozen MLAs.
The maverick leader was referring to an old case of 2004 when as the Union Textiles Minister he was accused of selling prime land of the National Textiles Corp (NTC) in Mumbai for a song causing a loss of Rs 700 crore to the exchequer.
Gehlot had on Tuesday claimed that Vaghela was under pressure to cause harm to the Congress because of a threat of raids by the CBI and Enforcement Directorate in the NTC case.
Vaghela’s leaving the party days after as many as 11 party legislators cross-voted for NDA Presidential nominee Ram Nath Kovind had raised apprehensions that Ahmed Patel might not get the 46 first preference votes required to be elected to the Rajya Sabha.
The Congress has 57 members in the 182-member House.
Flanked by state Congress president Bharatsinh Solanki and Gehlot, Ahmed Patel submitted his papers at the state Assembly in the presence of a majority of the 57 Congress MLAs and one each of the Nationalist Congress Party and Janata Dal-United.
The 67-year-old Congress leader, who hails from Bharuch in south Gujarat, first became a member of the Upper House in 1993. If he wins, this will be his fifth term.
Gehlot and Bharatsinh Solanki had earlier exuded confidence that Patel would win and claimed the party has the support of two legislators of the NCP and one of JD-U.
Solanki added that a whip had been issued to all the MLAs to vote for the official nominee Ahmed Patel. If any of them fails to do so, he or she could invite disqualification for six years for defying it.
Three Rajya Sabha seats from Gujarat have fallen vacant. The term of two others, Union Minister Smriti Irani and Dilip Pandya of the BJP, also ends on August 18 along with that of Patel.
However, they are yet to file nominations. A decision regarding the BJP members is expected on Wednesday evening during the party’s Election Committee meeting.
The last date for submitting papers for the elections is July 28.