Fearing “cross voting” by some of its MLAs, Congress, which held its Legislative Council meet Wednesday morning, later hosted a dinner for its MLAs at a city hotel to firm up support of its legislators. Though party’s Rajya Sabha candidate Kapil Sibal was not part of the CLP meeting in the morning, he, along with senior leaders such as Madhusudan Mistry and MP Raj Babbar, was present for the dinner.
Senior leader Ghulam Nabi Azad, who has been appointed by the party as its observer for biennial polls in UP, is also likely to reach Lucknow Thursday.
Though the Congress officially claimed that 27 of its 29 MLAs were present in the CLP meeting (CLP leader Pradeep Mathur claimed only Banda MLA Vivek Singh and Maharajganj MLA Kaushal Kishore Singh ‘Munna’ “could not make it” to the meeting while rest were present), sources said that as many as “four to five” MLAs were missing. These included, besides the two named by Mathur, Bahraich MLA Madhuri Verma — known to be a follower of Samajwadi Party’s Rajya Sabha candidate and former Union minister Beni Prasad Verma.
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Significantly, Madhuri’s husband Dileep Verma had joined the ruling SP during the Lok Sabha elections in 2014 while the MLA herself never participated in any of the functions held by Congress since then.
Matters had been thus that her party’s Bahraich unit president, Chandra Shekhar, had even termed her “a Congress MLA only in name”. “We consider her part of the SP family now,” Shekhar had said in December that year when reports of Madhuri, Kaushal Kishore, Vivek Singh — the same MLAs who didn’t reportedly attend the CLP meeting Wednesday — cosying up to SP president Mulayam Singh Yadav and Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav had surfaced.
While the Congress leadership did not cite any reason for its MLAs’ absence at it meeting Wednesday, leaders claimed that Kaushal Kishore is undergoing treatment at Tata Memorial Hospital for “cancer”. Vivek Singh, on the other hand, has communicated that although his son is undergoing treatment in Delhi, he would be present on the day of voting.
“Though many MLAs were not part of the morning meeting, they turned up (for dinner) by the end of the day. While Kaushal Kishore has made it clear that he would not be able to come on the day of voting due to his ongoing treatment, Madhuri Verma also might not vote in our favour. We hope the rest would vote for us,” said a senior Congress leader requesting anonymity.
Sources say since it was now clear that the party would fall short of at least two votes, Peace Party MLA from Rae Bareli Akhilesh Singh has been approached. Sources add that Singh has agreed to vote in favour of Congress’s MLC candidate Deepak Singh. Singh and K L Sharma, the representative of party president Sonia Gandhi in Rae Bareli, had attended the CLP meeting.
Amid the mounting fear, though, some relief for Congress came when Rashtriya Lok Dal chief Ajit Singh, who met his party’s MLAs in Delhi Wednesday, announced his support to both the SP and Congress in the biennial elections. Sources say that seven of Peace Party’s eight MLAs attended Singh’s meeting in Delhi where it was decided that the ruling party would first decide on the number of votes it need to elect all its nominated candidates to Rajya Sabha, the remaining votes would go to Congress.
Speaking to The Indian Express, Anil Dubey, member of RLD national executive committee, said, “Ajit Singh has announced support to SP and Congress to defeat the communal forces.” He, however, refused to comment on how the votes of its eight MLAs would be divided between the two parties. Congress is also banking on second preference votes from BSP, sources said.