Ahead of the by-elections for two Rajya Sabha seats in Gujarat, 65 Congress MLAs were taken to a resort near Palanpur of Banaskantha, which the party has termed as a “shivir”.
The MLAs are expected to stay in the ‘Balaram Palace’ resort for 24 hours, purportedly to avoid cross-voting. This even as the budget session of the State Assembly is on.
Recently, the Supreme Court refused to entertain the Congress’ petition to conduct elections to both seats together instead of two separate elections, which reduces chances of the Congress winning any seat.
The Congress termed it as a “precautionary move” against pressure tactics and alleged horse-trading by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), ahead of the by-elections to be held at the Gujarat Vidhan Sabha in Gandhinagar on Friday.
The BJP has fielded External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar and party’s OBC leader Jugal Thakor as candidates for the by-elections while the Congress has fielded former MLA Chandrika Chudasama of Junagadh and party leader from Valsad, Gaurav Pandya. The Rajya Sabha seats fell vacant after BJP president Amit Shah and Union Minister Smriti Irani won the Lok Sabha constituencies of Gandhinagar and Amethi respectively in the recently held general elections and subsequently resigned as Rajya Sabha members.
Speaking to The Indian Express, Manish Doshi, spokesperson for GPCC, said, “We have organised a shivir (camp) where the party’s veteran leaders will ‘guide’ the new MLAs. First the MLAs reached Ambaji Temple to seek blessings and later moved to Balaram Resort where they will stay till Thursday.” Among the remaining five MLAs who decided not to go to the resort, two have dissented against the party – Alpesh Thakor and Dhavalsinh Zala, and are not expected to vote in its favour. On Tuesday, the Gujarat High Court turned down a Congress plea seeking Alpesh Thakor’s disqualification after he announced he resigned from all posts of the Congress.
“We are aware of MLA Alpesh Thakor and MLA Dhavalsinh Zala who have turned rebel. The remaining three MLAs — Himmatsinh Patel, Imran Khedawala and Shailesh Parmar — will not be able to join us since the upcoming Lord Jagannath Yatra procession will go through their constituencies in Ahmedabad on Thursday and they are needed there,” said Doshi. Apart from these, Vikram Madam, Congress MLA from Jam Khambhaliya also said he was not joining the camp. “I was the first one to accept the party whip. However, it is true that I am not going. I have some work and have stayed back after getting approval from the party,” Madam told The Indian Express.
During the 2017 Assembly polls, the Congress had herded 44 MLAs to a resort in Anand and then to Bengaluru to ensure veteran leader Ahmed Patel’s return to the Rajya Sabha in a closely-fought contest. Patel faced a contest from former Congress whip Balwantsinh Rajput who switched to the BJP along with other Congress MLAs just ahead of the elections that year.