In a bid to protect them from any form of horse trading ahead of the crucial Rajya Sabha elections scheduled for August 8, the Congress leadership flew in 10 more MLAs from Gujarat to a resort in Bengaluru on Saturday. This after the party had to suffer the resignations of six of its MLAs, three of whom have joined the BJP. Over 30 MLAs of the Congress were rushed Friday night to Bengaluru, capital of a Congress-ruled state. The present toll of MLAs flocked to the resort stands at 44.
Senior Congress leaders Gulam Nabi Azad, Anand Sharma, Manish Tiwari and Abhishek Manu Singhvi are going to meet Election Commission officials and brief them about the ongoing problem in the state. The Congress had earlier accused the BJP of indulging in horse trading in a bid to weaken the party ahead of the Rajya Sabha and state Assembly elections, scheduled later this year.
Meanwhile, Congress MLA Raghavjee Patel, considered close to former party strongman Shankersinh Vaghela, indicated he would also resign and join the BJP. “The state party leadership, along with Congress high command, is responsible for whatever is happening right now. In the coming days, around 20 Congress MLAs would severe ties with the party. Thus, it will be impossible for Ahmed Patel to win the Rajya Sabha polls,” Raghavjee told media persons on Friday.
Congress leader Arjun Modhwadia told reporters at Ahmadabad 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 on Friday.
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.
While the BJP has nominated Amit Shah, Smriti Irani and Congress-import Balwantsinh Rajput for the three vacant Rajya Sabha seats, the Congress has once again pitched Ahmed Patel, the political secretary to Sonia Gandhi. The cross-voting of some of the Congress MLAs in the presidential election has made the party tense as it sees Patel’s election to Rajya Sabha as a prestige issue.
The desertion of the six MLAs is seen as a direct fallout of the exit of Shankarsinh Vaghela, the party’s tallest leader in the state and the Leader of the Opposition. Vaghela, who was keen to be nominated as the party’s chief ministerial nominee in the Assembly election, announced his resignation from the party on the occasion of his birthday.
Earlier Congress leader Abhishek Manu Singhvi said, “Crores of rupees have been spent in horse-trading in Gujarat by the BJP. One Congress Gujarat MLA Punabhai Gamit has said he was offered Rs. 10 crore by the BJP to join hands with them.” The accusation was laughed off by senior BJP leadership. Congress also said that its MLAs in the state were threatened, coerced and bribed and were no longer feeling safe in their own state.
The move to safeguard their MLAs or locking them up in one particular place under the watchful eyes of the party is not a new practice. However, it has emerged as a trend in recent past. Most recently, over a hundred AIADMK legislators were also taken to a resort to stop them from joining the opposition rival camp within the same party, with beefed up security measures in and around the retreat where they received four-star luxury treatment.