Frenetic activity was witnessed in the warring camps of the BJP and Congress Monday as Gujarat braced for high stakes elections to three Rajya Sabha seats from the state Tuesday. In the fray for the BJP are party president Amit Shah, Union Minister Smriti Irani and Congress defector Balwantsinh Rajput while the Congress is trying to ensure the return to the Upper House of Ahmed Patel, political secretary to its president Sonia Gandhi.
Guarding its flock from the BJP, the Congress flew in its 44 MLAs from Bengaluru to Ahmedabad early Monday, only to herd them to a resort near Anand town. The Neejanand resort turned into a fortress with entry to the resort being restricted until Tuesday morning when the Congress will move its MLAs to Gandhinagar for the voting. Six Gujarat MLAs have so far quit the Congress and three of them have joined the BJP.
Reaching the Neejanand resort to meet the MLAs, Ahmed Patel said he was confident of a win. “I have complete faith in the MLAs, the Congress will see a comfortable win on Tuesday. The MLAs have remained committed to the party in the last few days while in Bengaluru,” he said.
On MLAs being holed up in a resort, Patel said: “The BJP has forced us to take this step. We had 57 MLAs and they had attempted to sabotage free elections by reducing our number to 25. So, we had to take this drastic step and move the MLAs out of the threatening situation.”
He said he was confident of securing the 45 votes needed. “There are other MLAs who can vote. There are NCP and JD(U) too. So numbers will not be a problem. The Congress will win comfortably,” he said.
Patel said while no one can prevent MLAs from voting the way they wish, including invalidation of votes, any cross-voting will be dealt with severely by the party. “Those who cross-vote will face party action, including disqualification,” he said.
Despite Patel’s claim that he had NCP support, it was unclear which way would the NCP vote — its has two MLAs, Jayant Patel and Kandhal Jadeja. The JD(U) has a lone MLA, Chhotu Vasava.
Kandhal Jadeja told reporters: “Today, we have got an order from the party high command (Praful Patel) that we have to vote for BJP in the Rajya Sabha elections tomorrow.”
Sources in NCP maintained that the party was still to decide. Its Gujarat leaders, sources said, were upset with the Congress for fielding candidates against the party in the 2012 Assembly elections and were not in a mood to back Ahmed Patel.
Shankersinh Vaghela, who caused the first tremor in the Congress when he resigned from the party last month, said: “I cannot disclose who I will vote for. However, if it is my one vote that Ahmedbhai (Patel) needs to win, then my vote shall go to him.”
In Ahmedabad, the BJP said it was confident of winning all three seats in Gujarat. Addressing a press conference, BJP spokesperson Bharat Pandya said all members of the party were in the state to support its three candidates.
BJP chief whip Pankaj Desai said the party had issued a whip to its MLAs not to use the NOTA option during voting. Pandya said: “We had written to the Election Commission on NOTA because the Congress party was making false allegations against the BJP. We wrote to the Election Commission since we too were opposed to the NOTA option in the Rajya Sabha elections.”
Meanwhile, the BJP media cell circulated photographs, purportedly of GPP MLA Nalin Kotadiya at a dinner of BJP MLAs in Gandhinagar Monday night.
The Congress MLAs returned to Ahmedabad by an IndiGo flight in the early hours of Monday and were received by Gujarat Congress chief Bharatsinh Solanki and party chief whip Shailesh Parmar. The Neejanand resort, owned by NRI Mahendra Patel, is in Vanskhedia village, 5 km from Anand town.
Anand Superintendent of Police Saurabh Singh said, “A total of 100 security personnel have been deployed at the venue. These include an SRPF unit and officers of Ahmedabad police who escorted the MLAs from the airport on Monday morning. The Ahmedabad police will escort the MLAs back to Gandhinagar on Tuesday morning.” He said public entry to the resort will be restricted until Tuesday in view of security concerns raised by the Congress.