Following the resignations of three of its MLAs in the state ahead of the Rajya Sabha elections on June 19, the Congress Saturday shifted its remaining 65 MLAs to three different resorts in the state in an attempt to thwart any more resignations that could further jeopardise the party’s tally here.
In view of the restrictions pertaining to gatherings in the time of the Covid-19 outbreak, the party has divided its legislators in three groups confining them locally at resorts in Ambaji, Rajkot and Vadodara. While MLAs from North Gujarat have been shifted to Wild Winds Resort near Ambaji in the party-ruled state of Rajasthan, MLAs from Saurashtra have been shifted to former party MLA Indranil Rajyaguru’s Neel’s City Resort near Rajkot and those from South and Central Gujarat have been put up at Aries Riverside Farmhouse in Umeta near Vadodara.
Senior Congress leaders claimed that the decision to move the MLAs to “safe locations” was to keep them away from pressures from the BJP, which, according to the party, has been trying to “poach MLAs”. As many as two more MLAs are said to be on their way out, top leaders of the party said. While one of them is said to be an MLA from Central Gujarat, another is from Saurashtra. Read in Malayam
A senior GPCC member told this newspaper, “We have had discussions with this young MLA from Central Gujarat and although he has communicated his displeasures to the party on previous occasions, the party has assured him of a resolution this time. We are trying to retain our flock. The reason why the MLAs have been taken to three different locations is because we do not trust the BJP-run government. They might use the Epidemic Act against the party to suppress us and pressurise our MLAs if we all gather at one place. Also, this arrangement helps us keep a close watch and have local discussions with the MLAs to understand the issues of those who are disgruntled.”
Since March this year, when the RS polls were to be first held, as many as eight Congress MLAs have resigned. Karjan (Vadodara) MLA Akshay Patel and Kaprada (Valsad) MLA Jitu Chaudhary resigned this week on Thursday and Morbi MLA Brijesh Merja on Friday, thus dashing all hope of the party’s claim to two seats in the upper house.
On Saturday, Congress leader Hardik Patel reacted to the resignation of Merja, his one-time confidante during the Patidar Anamat Andolan in 2017. Using strong words against all turncoats, Hardik said, “People should beat up those (MLAs) with chappals for cheating the voters… I believe that the people will give these turncoat MLAs a fitting reply in bypolls, like they have done in the past –be it in Bayad, Radhanpur earlier or now Morbi in the future.”
Hardik said that the BJP was trying all its tactics to gain majority in the Rajya Sabha, thus moving in to poach Congress MLAs by pressurising them before every scheduled poll to the upper house.
Hardik said, “The (BJP) party may have a majority in the Lok Sabha but they are struggling to have numbers in the upper house. Therefore, whenever there is a Rajya Sabha election, they try to get as many of their leaders elected as possible to increase the numbers.”
Hardik said that the onus is on the Election Commission (EC) to clear its stand on the issue of defections and set an example by initiating punitive action against turncoats to restore the faith of the country in democracy. He said, “…Even high courts turn to the EC at such times to take decisions. There should be proceeding against such MLAs who break the trust of their voters and change parties…”
Twenty Congress MLAs from Central and South Gujarat have been shifted to the Aries Riverside farmhouse in Umeta near Vadodara. These include Rajendrasinh Parmar (Borsad), Kanti Sodhaparmar (Anand), Niranjan Patel (Petlad), Punam Parmar (Sojitra), Indrajitsinh Parmar (Mahuda), Kantibhai Parmar (Thasra), Kala Dabhi (Kapadvanj), Ajit Chauhan (Balasinor), Bhavesh Katara (Jhalod), Vijesinh Panda (Dahod), Chandrika Bariya (Garbada), Jaspalsinh Thakor (Padra), Premsinh Vasava (Nandod), Sanjay Solanki (Jambusar), Anand Chaudary (Mandvi), Puna Gamit (Vyara), Anant Patel (Vansda) and Sunil Gamit (Nizar). GPCC President Amit Chavda, who is an MLA from Anklav, is also at this location, which is barely 10 kilometers from his hometown.
Vadodara Congress spokesperson Nilesh Brahmabhatt said that MLAs Mohansinh Rathwa and Sukhram Rathwa from Chhota Udepur and Jetpur respectively, have not been herded to the resort. “These are two MLAs who the party is absolutely sure about. They are seniors so they have been asked to stay in touch from their homes,” Brahmabhatt said. All MLAs were shifted to the resort in the wee hours of Saturday.
After Merja resigned on Friday, the Congress herded 16 of its MLAs from Saurashtra and Kutch region to Neels City Resort, a private resort in Rajkot while three more were reportedly on their way to Rajkot on Saturday.
Leader of Opposition Paresh Dhanani and a few fellow Congress MLAs reached the resort owned by former Congress MLA Indranil Rajyaguru on Friday night while others arrived on Saturday. Dhanani said that out of the 22 Congress MLAs in Saurashtra, 19 are expected to assemble in Rajkot and remain holed up till the day of polling for the four seats of Rajya Sabha.
Buikha Joshi, the party MLA from Junagadh, couldn’t join as he’s undergoing a cataract operation. A few MLAs from Surendranagar district, which is also part of Saurashtra, were to join the group of Congress legislators in Ahmedabad, Dhanani said.
The Opposition leader said the party had to keep its flock together to “save democracy.” Dhanani said, “While Congress MLAs were standing among people for two months and fighting the coronavirus, the ruling BJP was busy doing todona (break up) operation… An active Opposition is integral part of a democratic system. The BJP is bent on breaking the Opposition…”
The Neels City Resort is owned by former Congress MLA Indranil Rajyaguru. It was in this resort that Rahul Gandhi had held a meeting of the party in the run up to the 2014 Lok Sabha election. It was in the same resort that Congress had herded its 44 MLAs in the run up to the 2017 Rajya Sabha elections before flying them away to Bengaluru.
Rajyaguru had quit Congress months after his defeat to Chief Minister Vijay Rupani from Rajkot (west) Assembly constituency in the 2017 Assembly elections. He said Dhanani and senior Congress leader Arjun Modhwadia contacted him and requested to accommodate MLAs. “It is true that I’m not a member of the party but we are not enemies either. They’ve given me the responsibility of hosting the MLAs and I’ve accepted it,” said Rajyaguru who was Congress MLA from Rajkot (east) between 2012 and 2017 and was the richest legislator of Gujarat with declared assets of Rs123 crore.