Rattled by resignations of three MLAs ahead of the June 19 Rajya Sabha polls, the Congress in Gujarat on Saturday (June 6) shifted several of its legislators to resorts and bungalows near their constituencies to thwart any “poaching” bid, a party leader said.
With the resignations of Akshay Patel and Jitu Chaudhary on June 3 and that of Brijesh Merja on June 5, the Congress strength in the 182-member House has been reduced to 65.
The effective strength of the House, however, stands at 172 as of now as ten seats are currently vacant – two due to court cases and the rest because of resignations.
With every drop in the MLA count, the Congress’ chances of winning the second Rajya Sabha seat are fast diminishing.
While, several MLAs from north Gujarat were shifted to a resort near Ambaji in Banaskantha district, those from south and Central Gujarat were moved to private bungalows in Anand, Congress spokesperson Manish Doshi said, adding that legislators from Saurashtra region were shifted to a resort in Rajkot.
“The MLAs were asked by party high command to arrive in resorts in Anand, Ambaji, and Rajkot after completing their work on Saturday. They will arrive in these resorts on the basis of the zone-wise location of their constituencies. Many of them have arrived. Others will reach there soon,” he said.
He said senior leaders of the Congress will interact with MLAs and discuss the current situation and upcoming Rajya Sabha elections.
Doshi said MLAs might continue to stay in these resorts until the day of the election for four Rajya Sabha seats in Gujarat, i.e on June 19.
Earlier, the Congress had moved its MLAs to a resort in Jaipur in March this year after five of them had resigned ahead of the March 26 elections to the Upper House. The polls were deferred due to the coronavirus-driven lockdown.
With the reduced strength at 65, the Congress may find it difficult to win two Rajya Sabha seats for which it has fielded senior leaders Bharatsinh Solanki and Shaktisinh Gohil.
A party MLA said Solanki remains the second preference after Gohil, and that they will vote as per the directive of the party on June 19.
“All 65 MLAs are united. There is no internal factionalism in the Congress. Bharatsinh (Solanki) himself knows he is the second candidate. It is the party’s decision. We will cast our vote as per the directive of the party. State unit party president Amitbhai Chavda has also announced that Shaktisinh is our primary candidate,” said MLA Vikram Madam.
Congress leaders have accused the ruling BJP of adopting means like “blackmailing, threatening or using money to poach its MLAs”.
“In each case, we can see how these people in power are either offering money or positions or blackmailing MLAs to make them resign. It is clear these (three) MLAs were bought over with crores of rupees,” he said.
The Congress has also accused the BJP of trying to split the opposition party to win the Rajya Sabha polls.
Leader of Opposition Paresh Dhanani alleged, “The BJP has opened its shop to buy Congress MLAs from the money amassed through corrupt means. The BJP is using the state machinery and money power to win elections.”
However, the ruling BJP dismissed the charge, saying MLAs were leaving the Congress as they were “unhappy” with the party leadership.
BJP’s Narhari Amin refuted the allegations and said, “I believe that some more Congress MLAs would also resign in near future. They are leaving Congress because they are unhappy with the party leadership.”
The BJP, which has 103 MLAs in the Assembly, has fielded Abhay Bhardwaj, Ramilaben Bara, and Narhari Amin for the June 19 polls.
While the Bharatiya Tribal Party has two MLAs, the Nationalist Congress Party has one legislator and there is one independent legislator, Jignesh Mevani.
(With inputs from agencies)