After the cross-voting in the presidential election and the exit of veteran leader Shankersinh Vaghela last week, the Congress suffered another setback in Gujarat on Thursday as three of its MLAs — Balwantsinh Rajput (Sidhpur), Tejashree Patel (Viramgam) and Prahlad Patel (Vijapur) — quit the party to join the BJP. The BJP immediately declared Rajput, who was the Congress’s chief whip in the Assembly, as its third candidate for the Rajya Sabha elections scheduled to be held on August 8. Its other two candidates are party chief Amit Shah and Union minister Smriti Irani.
This has injected an element of uncertainty in the re-election of Ahmed Patel, political secretary to Congress president Sonia Gandhi, who filed his nomination papers on Wednesday.
The exit of the three MLAs, which comes just months ahead of the Gujarat Assembly elections due in December, has reduced the Congress’s tally to 54 in the 182-seat assembly. While each Rajya Sabha candidate needs 47 votes to win, there is speculation that some disgruntled Congress MLAs may cross-vote in favour of Rajput. He will also get the BJP’s spare votes — the party has 120 MLAs.
Tejashree Patel said she had left the Congress as the party had decided to field “outsider” Khodabhai Thakore, father of OBC leader Alpesh Thakore, from Viramgam. “I felt very bad because it amounts to insulting a sitting MLA,” she said. Complaining of infighting within the party, she said that “there is no control over indiscipline in the party”.
She also targeted the party’s inaction on the Patidars’ reservation demand. “For the last one-and-a-half years, I have been saying that Patidars are upset with the Congress, and the party should reach out to Patidar Anamat Andolan Samiti leaders, but no initiative was taken by the leadership,” she said. “BJP is the ruling party in the state, and I feel I can serve the people better by being a part of the ruling party,’’ she added.
While Prahlad Patel declined to comment on his resignation, Rajput, whose son is married to Vaghela’s granddaughter, could not be contacted. In his resignation letter sent to Sonia, Rajput said: “I have worked sincerely for the party since 1982 but for the last few years, the Congress party has been trying to harm my reputation through my colleagues intentionally. Some party colleagues have tried to hurt my reputation in the party due to my family relations with Shankersinh Vaghela.”
Reacting to the development, Ashok Gehlot, AICC general secretary in charge of Gujarat, said it was “a conspiracy of the BJP”. He expressed confidence that Ahmed Patel would win the Rajya Sabha election.
“After ruling Gujarat for 20-plus years, if the BJP relies on the defection of a few Congress MLAs to stay in the fight for the 2017 polls, it says a lot about the party’s ‘development’ and ‘people friendly policies’,” said Gujarat Pradesh Congress Committee president Bharatsinh Solanki.
Meanwhile, Congress sources said another four of its MLAs were likely to join the BJP. In the presidential election, the Congress found that eight of its Gujarat MLAs had voted in favour of NDA’s Ram Nath Kovind. Meira Kumar could garner the votes of only 49 legislators, against the party’s then strength of 57 in the Assembly.