NEW DELHI (Reuters) – Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s party has failed in its bid to oust the opposition Congress party’s top strategist from the upper house of parliament, in a rare setback to its effort to secure national political supremacy.
Ahmed Patel, Congress President Sonia Gandhi’s political secretary, clung on in Tuesday’s vote to the seat he has held for 24 years, despite a push by Modi’s team to chisel away the support of lawmakers from his party.
“This is not just my victory,” Patel said on social network Twitter. “It is a defeat of the most blatant use of money power, muscle power and abuse of state machinery.”
The indirect election of three representatives by lawmakers from the western state of Gujarat would normally be a low-key affair. But Modi’s top strategist, Amit Shah, invested huge political capital in his attempt to oust Patel.
Shah ‘turned’ a handful of Congress lawmakers, forcing the opposition party to evacuate its state lawmakers to an out-of-state golf resort to isolate them from his advances.
The results were announced after the Election Commission canceled the votes of two Congress lawmakers who had defected, in a last twist to the fortnight-long poll drama.
Shah and another minister from Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) were comfortably re-elected to the two other seats that were up for grabs.
Modi won the biggest mandate in 30 years in the 2014 general election, giving him control of the lower house. But, despite a string of regional election wins, he still lacks a majority in the upper house that represents India’s 29 states and has proven to be a stumbling block for its legislative agenda.
With his attempts to oust Patel, Shah sought to deal a direct blow to the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty that has dominated Congress for generations and produced three prime ministers.
Patel, 68, is one of the few politicians who has worked closely with three generations of Congress leaders, and was a key strategist in the party’s general election victories in 2004 and 2009.
“This election became a prestige battle and ended with a bit of an embarrassment for Modi’s party,” said Devang Chudasama, a political science professor at Gujarat University.
Editing by Douglas Busvine and Clarence Fernandez