GANDHINAGAR: The "infighting" in the Congress came to the fore on the last day of filing of nominations for the Rajya Sabha elections today, with party leader P K Valera staking claim as an Independent while the BJP fielding former MLA Kiritsinh Rana as a "third candidate".
Seven candidates, including Valera and Rana, have filed nominations for four seats falling vacant from the state, for which elections will be held on March 23.
Three out of the seven candidates filed their nomination papers in the last 30 minutes before the 3-PM deadline today.
Union ministers Purshottam Rupala and Mansukh Mandavia are the nominees of the BJP while the Congress has fielded Amiben Yagnik and tribal leader Naran Rathwa.
However, the entry of Valera, a former IAS officer and current general secretary of the Gujarat Congress, has made the elections interesting.
He filed his nomination papers as an independent with the support of some Congress MLAs, after two official candidates of the party filed their forms.
A source close to Valera said 10 MLAs of the Congress have signed his nomination papers.
As Rupala, Mandavia, and Yagnik submitted their forms, Rathwa delayed filing his nomination, giving rise to speculations on the second candidate of the Congress, with name of Rajeev Shukla started doing the rounds.
A short while after 2:30 PM, nearly half an hour before the 3-PM deadline for filing of papers, Rathwa turned up along with state Congress leaders at the office of Returning Officer here and submitted his papers.
Later, BJP's Rana also filed his nomination as a third candidate for the party.
The nominations of Rathwa, Valera, and Rana were filed with the deadline half an hour away.
A person called Paresh Mulani also filed his nomination as an Independent.
However, leaders of both the BJP and the Congress denied that Mulani was associated with them.
According to sources, Mulani's nomination is likely to be rejected during the scrutiny of forms tomorrow as he has not taken the mandatory support of 10 MLAs, which is required as per norms.
The last date for withdrawal of candidature is March 15.
In the 182-member House, the ruling BJP has 99 MLAs while the opposition Congress 77.
Both the parties are in a position to send two candidates each to the Rajya Sabha, as the minimum number of votes required per candidate is 38.
The BJP said the delay in filing of nomination by Rathwa and the entry of Valera as an Independent show there was an intense "infighting" within the party.
"Today's episode has brought to the fore tremendous infighting in the Congress camp.
One of its leaders P K Valera has filed his nomination as an independent candidate with the support of some Congress MLAs.
This might split the votes of Congress MLAs," Gujarat Deputy Chief Minister Nitin Patel said.
"The delay in filing of nomination forms by Rathwa was also a result of infighting," he said.
Patel said the BJP fielded Rana, former MLA of Limbdi, as a third nominee to take advantage of infighting in the Congress.
When asked about the delay, Rathwa told reporters that he had to obtain one of the papers required for filing his nomination.
Gujarat Congress president Bharatsinh Solanki expressed confidence that both their official candidates would win the RS polls.
In August last year, senior Congress leader Ahmed Patel struggled but managed to to retain his Rajya Sabha seat against the backdrop of resignation and cross-voting by some Congress MLAs.
On rest two seats up for grabs then, BJP president Amit Shah and Union minister Smriti Irani won comfortably.