Four Gujarat Congress MLAs tendered their resignation to the Assembly Speaker on Saturday, triggering panic in the party ahead of the March 26 election to four Rajya Sabha seats from the state. One more MLA was reported to have gone “unreachable” since Sunday morning, leading to speculation that he too has joined the rebels.
Speaking to The Indian Express, Speaker Rajendra Trivedi confirmed that he had accepted the resignations of four MLAs of the Opposition party. Trivedi, however, refused to share their names, saying he would do so only in the House.
According to sources, the four MLAs who resigned are Soma Patel from Surendranagar, J V Kakadiya from Dhari, Mangal Gavit from Dang and Pradhyumansinh Jadeja from Abdasa.
Sources in the Congress said they were suspicious when Mangal Gavit, a two-time Congress MLA from Dang in South Gujarat, left Gandhinagar for Dang during the ongoing Assembly session on the pretext that he was required in his constituency for Holi.
However, from Friday morning onwards, acting on instructions from higher-ups in the party, other Congress MLAs started accompanying Gavit wherever he went. The Congress leaders remained with him all day and even took him out for lunch at a private hotel, before dropping him off at his house near Ahwa.
Congress sources in Dangs said that later that night, when Vansda Congress MLA Anant Patel, accompanied by party workers, reached Gavit’s house around 10 pm, they found his car parked outside his house. When they inquired with his son, they were told that he had gone out with some people. When they called on his mobile phone, they found it switched off.
During the last Rajya Sabha elections in 2017, Gavit had nearly crossed over to the BJP side but Congress leaders had taken him to the house of former Union minister Tushar Chaudhary in Vyara, where he stayed until the elections.
Another Congress MLA, Pravin Maru, from Gadhda in Botad, allegedly went unreachable on Sunday, triggering speculation of him having gone rogue.
“I tried contacting him on phone around 2 pm but his mobile phone is out of network coverage. We do not know anything else about him,” said Ramesh Mer, president of the Botad district unit of the Congress.
Phone calls and text messages sent by The Indian Express to Maru went unanswered even as his personal assistant Razzak Solanki said the MLA was not resigning. “I spoke to him at 2.35pm today and told him that the media is reporting that he is resigning. He told me there is nothing like that,” said Solanki.
The events in Gujarat are seen as a near-repeat of the 2017 Rajya Sabha elections, which had four candidates vying for three seats, of which the BJP was seeking re-election in two seats and the Congress one. While national party chief Amit Shah and Union minister Smriti Irani won easily, the contest in the third seat, between Congress turncoat Balwantsinh Rajput and Congress veteran Ahmed Patel, ended up as a cliff-hanger after six Congress MLAs quit. Patel eventually won by a whisker.
The Gujarat Congress rubbished reports of their four MLAs having resigned. “This is a misinformation campaign being run by the BJP to create an atmosphere of confusion ahead of the elections. How can our MLAs resign on Sunday, a holiday? None of our MLAs have resigned and they fully support us,” said Manish Doshi, spokesperson, Gujarat Pradesh Congress Committee (GPCC).
However, sensing trouble, the Congress had already started sending their MLAs to resorts in Jaipur. According to sources, as many as 41 Congress MLAs have been sent to Jaipur over Saturday and Sunday.
“We have sent Congress MLAs in two batches of 27 and 14 to Jaipur ahead of the Rajya Sabha elections, even as the party’s senior MLAs have been entrusted with the task of managing Ahmedabad and the House sessions in Gandhinagar. The BJP is trying to buy off our vulnerable MLAs and their politics is deplorable,” said Virji Thummar, Congress MLA from Amreli seat.
GPCC president Amit Chavda too dismissed reports of the MLAs’ resignation and demanded that their resignation letters be made public.
Later, Speaker Rajendra Trivedi released a video statement, saying, “I am stating that from 5pm to midnight on Saturday, four MLAs from Congress party met me personally on different occasions and submitted their resignation applications. After cross verifying their application and signature, I accepted it. The Congress MLAs have submitted their resignation out of their own free will.”
The Congress has fielded senior leaders Shaktisinh Gohil and Bharatsinh Solanki while Abhay Bharadwaj, Ramilaben Bara and Narhari Amin filed their nominations for the BJP. Later, three candidates of the BJP, Dineshbhai Makwana, Shah Amitbhai Popatlal and Kiritsinh Rana, also filed their nominations, as dummy candidates. With that, there are eight contestants for four Rajya Sabha seats from the state.
Of the 182 seats in the state Assembly, the BJP has 103, the Congress 73, the Bharatiya Tribal Party two and the NCP one, besides one independent candidate and two vacant seats. The BJP, with its 103 MLAs, can win two of the four seats and the Congress could have won the other two had its numbers stayed intact. But now, it is four votes less. The BJP can retain its current three seats only if there are defections from the Opposition.
The elections were necessitated as the terms of four Rajya Sabha members — Chunibhai Gohel, Shambhuprasad Tundiya and Lalsinh Vadodia of the BJP and Madhusudan Mistry of the Congress — are ending on April 9.
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