Fearing the worst after six Gujarat MLAs quit the party in the run-up to the Rajya Sabha elections on August 8, the Congress scrambled Friday night to keep its remaining flock intact by flying over 30 MLAs from Ahmedabad to party-ruled Bengaluru. The party made the move within hours of accusing the BJP of horse-trading, and use of “money, muscle and state power” to engineer defections.
Congress leader Arjun Modhwadia told reporters at Ahmedabad airport that it was a question of the security of MLAs and they were being taken to a safe place. Congressmen formed a cordon around the MLAs as they stepped off a bus at the airport around 10.30 pm to board the 11.45 pm flight to Bengaluru.
They are expected to be in Bengaluru for at least a week with Gujarat Congress unit president Bharatsinh Solanki. Congress leader Jagdish Thakor said the remaining Congress MLAs were also being flown out and that all would be present on the day of the Rajya Sabha elections. At least eight MLAs were said to have missed the flight to Bengaluru. Among them were Shankersinh Vaghela loyalists including his son and Bayad MLA Mahendrasinh Vaghela.
While BJP president Amit Shah and Union Minister Smriti Irani have been fielded by the BJP, the Congress has again fielded Ahmed Patel, political secretary to Sonia Gandhi, for the third seat. The six resignations — three resigned Friday — may hold the key to the third seat.
Following the resignations, the strength of the Gujarat Assembly has come down to 176 and that of the Congress to 51. A candidate will require 44 votes to win given the current strength of the Assembly. The BJP has 121 MLAs in the House.
Congress sources said the party could seek disqualification of those who resign. AICC general secretary in charge of Gujarat, Ashok Gehlot, rushed to Ahmedabad from Jaipur and Ahmed Patel too was camping there.
The Congress alleged that the BJP was “spending crores of rupees to buy” its MLAs, and there was information that at least two more MLAs could resign within the next 24 hours. Underlining that “resignation is also corruption”, Congress leader Abhishek Singhvi alleged that MLAs may have been lured with money or promise of Assembly tickets which qualifies as gratification under provisions of the Prevention of Corruption Act.
The BJP rejected the charges. Bhupender Yadav, BJP general secretary in charge of Gujarat, said, “It is an internal fight of the Congress. People want to leave the Congress. One section appears to be keen to defeat Ahmed Patel in the Rajya Sabha elections.”
Union Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said the Congress allegations were “not only false and laughable but shows its utter desperation”.
“A senior leader like Shankersinh Vaghela, former Chief Minister and Leader of Opposition, has left the Congress. Three-time MLA and its chief whip Balwantsinh Rajput has left it too. Does the Congress want to suggest that it has given important positions to such leaders who could be purchased,” Prasad said.
Earlier in the day, the count of Congress MLAs dwindled further after Thasra MLA Ramsinh Parmar, Balasinor MLA Mansinh Chauhan and Vansda MLA Chhana Chaudhary submitted their resignations to Speaker Ramanlal Vora. They told reporters they would decide their future course of action in the next few days. The three MLAs who resigned Thursday — Tejashreeben Patel, Balwantsinh Rajput and Prahlad Patel — have already joined the BJP.
Parmar told reporters he was “fed up with factionalism” in the Congress which had prevented the growth of the party in Gujarat. While Chauhan declined comment, Chaudhary’s son Praveen said, “I met my father on Thursday afternoon but he did not disclose his plan. We came to know about his resignation today while watching the news on TV. I am not into politics and I don’t like politics. He did not turn up at night. We have been trying to reach him but he is not answering the phone. His personal assistant said he is safe, and there there is nothing to worry… I don’t know whether he will join the BJP or not, it is up to him.”
Meanwhile, Vyara Congress MLA Punabhai Gamit, speaking to reporters, alleged that he had been approached by Tapi district Superintendent of Police N K Amin with a monetary offer and an Assembly ticket on behalf of the BJP. Rejecting the allegations, Amin said: “I have been in Ahmedabad for the past 48 hours, so where is the question of meeting anyone in Tapi. Besides, I have never met this person. It is a blatant lie which I am going to challenge. He should either prove the allegation or be ready to face consequences.”