Almost a year after packing away 44 Gujarat MLAs to a resort in Bengaluru during the Rajya Sabha polls, the Congress is relocating elected representatives out of the state again, fearing they will be “poached” by the BJP. This time, the party has sent 34 panchayat members from Ahmedabad and Patan districts to cities in Rajasthan, just days before elections to the panchayat president and vice-president posts.
The members in the panchayats of these districts are to elect their president and vice-president on June 20. According to the Congress, the candidates for the two posts will be brought back on June 19, the last date for filing nominations, and the others will return on the day of polling. Incumbents in both posts at present are from the Congress.
“We are in hiding in Rajasthan for a week due to fear of the BJP poaching our representatives using saam, daam, dand, bhed (persuasion, bribe, punishment, threats),” said Ahmedabad District Congress Committee (ADCC) chief Khodaji Thakor, who is in Rajasthan. Refusing to disclose his location, Thakor confirmed that the candidates would return on the last day to file their nominations and that the rest would follow the next day for voting.
Patan District Congress Committee (PDCC) president Kanjibhai Desai, also in Rajasthan, said that all 16 Congress members from his district panchayat have been “relocated”.
BJP spokesperson Bharat Pandya said, “The Congress is not able to keep its own flock together and hence they are levelling baseless allegations against the BJP.”
The election of office-bearers in Gujarat district panchayats is held every 30 months from among the elected representatives. As the term of the current office-bearers ends this month, fresh elections are being held in different districts.
In the Ahmedabad district panchayat, the Congress has 18 in the 34-member House, while in Patan it had won 22 of 32 seats, this was later reduced to a mere 16 after many defected to the BJP, allegedly under the influence of Balwantsinh Rajput, who shifted loyalties from the Congress to the BJP before the Rajya Sabha elections and contested unsuccessfully against Ahmed Patel.
“One of them is willing to come back and we are sure to retain power in the panchayat,” said Desai.
During the 2017 Rajya Sabha election, the Congress had alleged that its MLAs were being poached by the BJP, and had sent 44 of them to a Bengaluru resort to keep its flock together. Though candidate Ahmed Patel won by a very thin margin, it had created panic within the party leadership. Then, eight Congress MLAs were expelled for not voting for Patel in line with the whip it had issued.
The Congress is confident of a victory. Party spokesperson Manish Doshi said, “We are going to retain power in both Ahmedabad and Patan districts despite BJP playing every trick to defeat us.”
In December 2015, the Congress had won 23 of 31 district panchayats and 113 of 193 taluka panchayats.