BRIJESH MERJA, the Congress MLA from Morbi, resigned as an MLA and a member of the party on Friday, thus becoming the third Congress legislator to desert the Opposition party just days ahead of the election to four Rajya Sabha seats in the state.
With Merja’s resignation, the Congress tally in the 182-member Gujarat Assembly comes down to 65. It is 12 seats less than the 77 seats that the party had originally won in the general election to Gujarat Assembly in 2017. The tally has come down mostly due to defections of the party’s MLAs to the BJP. In March this year, five Congress MLAs had resigned in the run-up to the Rajya Sabha election.
Merja, a Kadva Patel — a sub-caste group of Patidar community — tendered his resignation to Assembly Speaker Rajendra Trivedi, after mailing his resignation from the primary membership of the party to Congress president Sonia Gandhi. Merja’s resignation comes two days after Akshay Patel and Jitu Chaudhary, Congress MLAs from Karjan in Vadodara and Kaprada in Valsad respectively, had quit the party and as MLAs.
Merja has quit Congress for the second time within a span of six years. The 61-year-old politician had fought his maiden Assembly election as a Congress candidate in 2007, when the party had fielded him from Tankara seat in Morbi district. However, he lost to sitting BJP MLA Mohan Kundariya.
Congress fielded him again in 2012, this time from Morbi Assembly constituency, to challenge sitting BJP MLA Kantilal Amrutiya. However, Merja lost to Amrutiya as well. A couple of years later, when he was president of the Morbi district unit of Congress, Merja defected to the BJP when campaigning for the by-election to Tankara constituency was at its peak in 2014.
After three nondescript years with the BJP, Merja returned to Congress in the run-up to the 2017 Assembly election. He rode the wave of consolidation of Patidar votes, created by Patidar reservation agitation, to win the election and defeated Amrutiya. Patidar quota stir leaders Hardik Patel and Manoj Panara had aggressively campaigned for him, marshalling the support that the quota agitation had garnered for Patidar Anamat Andolan Samiti (PAAS) to Merja’s way, while he tacitly remained on sidelines.
The signboard from his office on Sanala Road in Morbi town disappeared on Friday morning, even as Merja could not be reached for a comment.
The election to four seats of Rajya Sabha was originally scheduled to be conducted on March 26, but it was postponed indefinitely due to outbreak of coronavirus and the nationwide lockdown. After the lockdown was eased last month, the Election Commission announced that polling for the four seats will take place on June 19.
Congress spokesperson Manish Doshi termed Merja’s resignation as a result of “undemocratic” politics of the BJP. “The BJP is resorting to non-democratic ways to cling to power by engineering defections of MLAs of the Opposition, as its vote-share and seat-share in the state Assembly has been going down for the past 20 years. The slide continued even during the times of Narendra Modi as Gujarat Chief Minister. In 2017, their seat count was just 99. The party is using its political power, police and purse and forcing out MLAs to defect. That said, every victory of our candidate in an election is the fruition of the toil of thousands of party workers. Therefore, this is a loss for the Congress party. This is also betrayal of the trust people had reposed in Merja as Congress candidate,” Doshi said.
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