ELECTIONS FOR 18 Rajya Sabha seats, which will be held on June 19 to mark resumption of political activity after the Covid lockdown, heated up Thursday with two Congress MLAs resigning in Gujarat.
The development is a setback to the party’s hopes of winning two out of four seats in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s home state, especially after the resignation of five other MLAs in March. A similar situation in MP, just days before the lockdown was imposed on March 24, had led to the exit of senior leader Jyotiraditya Scindia from the party and the Kamal Nath government being toppled.
In Gujarat, first-time MLA Akshay Patel from Vadodara district’s Karjan and four-time MLA Jitubhai Chaudhary from the reserved seat of Kaprada in Valsad handed their resignations to Speaker Rajendra Trivedi.
Their move reduces the Gujarat Assembly’s strength to 173, which means a candidate will require 35 first-preference votes to win a seat.
The Congress, which has fielded senior leaders Shaktisinh Gohil and Bharatsinh Solanki, now has only 66 MLAs, four short of the 70 required to win two seats. The ruling BJP has 103 in the House, and can ensure victory for two of its candidates, Ramilaben Bara and Abhay Bharadwaj.
While the Congress is assured of one seat, the contest is now for the remaining spot for which the BJP has fielded Narhari Amin, a former Congress leader, and needs just two more votes to get him through.
The Congress, meanwhile, is bracing for “more bad news” amid unconfirmed reports that another MLA could resign. But the party appeared to have survived a scare when two other MLAs — Anil Joshiyara from Bhiloda in Sabarkantha and Jaspal Thakor from Padra in Vadodara — were “unreachable” for hours.
State Congress leaders said both the MLAs had been traced. They claimed that a BJP MLA “was in touch” with Joshiyara while Thakor is believed to be “disappointed” over lack of access to the state leadership.
When contacted by The Indian Express, Joshiyara and Thakor denied any plan to quit the party.
State Congress chief Amit Chavda, who is a cousin of the party’s second candidate Solanki, told The Indian Express that a meeting of the 66 MLAs was held. “We have ensured that no defections will happen,” he said. Paresh Dhanani, Leader of Opposition in the Assembly, said that any “tussle in the party is an internal matter and BJP should not look to exploit it”.
Speaking to The Indian Express, AICC state in-charge Gujarat Rajeev Satav accused the BJP state government of having “totally failed in tackling the coronavirus outbreak” and “focusing on horse trading” instead. “The people of Gujarat are watching and will not pardon them,” Satav said.
BJP state chief Jitubhai Vaghani blamed “infighting in the Congress”. “The BJP is winning three seats and Congress will be swept away from Gujarat in 2022 and 2024… it is a sinking boat,” Vaghani said.
In Delhi, a senior Congress leader warned that the BJP “will adopt all tactics”. Another leader insisted that all is not lost. “There is unrest in the BJP, too. Many MLAs are unhappy over the working style of Chief Minister Vijay Rupani. Let’s see,” he said.
Sources said the Congress is hoping to get the vote of independent MLA Jignesh Mevani and “working on” NCP’s Kandhal Jadeja, and Bharatiya Tribal Party MLAs Chhotu Vasava and son Mahesh Vasava.
The latest turn of events is virtually a repeat of 2017 when the Congress fielded veteran Ahmed Patel, and was hit by cross-voting and desertion. But Patel managed to scrape through.
The elections to the four seats, which were held by BJP’s Chuni Gohel, Shambhuprasad Tundia and Lalsinh Vadodia, and Congress’s Madhusudan Mistry, were slated for March 26 before being postponed due to the pandemic.
(Kamaal Saiyed/Surat & Ritu Sharma, Vaibhav Jha/Ahmedabad)
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