All the 44 Congress MLAs from Gujarat, who were camping at a resort on the outskirts of Bengaluru in party-ruled Karnataka for the past nine days, arrived in Ahmedabad early on Monday — only to be whisked away to another resort ahead of the Rajya Sabha election tomorrow. The MLAs arrived around 4.45 am by an Indigo flight amid a huge security bandobast at the domestic terminal of the Sardar Patel International Airport.
The MLAs, who were received by state Congress president Bharatsinh Solanki and party’s chief whip Shailesh Parmar, were then taken to a resort near Borsad in Anand district on buses that had armed police personnel on board.
Anand is the home town of Solanki. The resort, named Neejanand, is owned by NRI Mahendra Patel and is located in Vanskhedia village, five km from Anand town. Vanskhedia is the native village of Anand district Congress president Kantibhai Sodha. “A majority of the villagers here are Congress supporters and, hence, it is quite safe for the MLAs,” said party sources.
The Gujarat Congress MLAs were in Bengaluru since July 29 to prevent their possible poaching by the ruling BJP for the Rajya Sabha election where the Congress is attempting to get Ahmed Patel, the political aide to party president Sonia Gandhi, re-elected. Following senior party leader Shankersinh Vaghela’s resignation, six Congress MLAs had followed suit, putting Patel’s re-election to the Upper House in jeopardy. As of now, the strength of the Congress in the 182-member Gujarat Assembly has slid to 51 from 57.
The Congress claims to have the support of the requisite 45 MLAs needed to send Patel to the Rajya Sabha. “We have the numbers. BJP doesn’t have the numbers,” Gujarat Congress leader Shaktisinh Gohil said while in Bengaluru.
PTI, too, has quoted Parmar as saying: “All our MLAs have decided not to go to their home even on this day of ‘Rakshabandhan’ and be loyal soldiers of the Congress party. They will stay together and they will go to vote for the Rajya Sabha polls tomorrow (to Gandhinagar) from Anand.”
The Congress has also accused the BJP of spreading fake reports that the Gujarat Congress MLAs would use the ‘NOTA’ option to defeat Patel.
However, even as the Congress claims that it has the numbers, Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) leader Praful Patel remarks on Sunday that his party is yet to decide about extending support to any party for the Rajya Sabha election in Gujarat might lead to a scramble. One of the NCP MLAs, Jayant Patel, was present when Ahmed Patel filed his nomination papers. The Gujarat Assembly has two NCP MLAs, Kandhal Jadeja being the other. The lone JD(U) MLA Chhotu Vasav, who is from the same district as Ahmed Patel, has pledged his vote for the Congress.
The stay of the Gujarat MLAs in the Eagleton Golf Resort on the outskirts of Bengaluru was marked by high drama. A senior Karnataka minister D K Shivakumar, who was overseeing the MLAs’ stay, faced searches by the income tax department last week in what the Congress called an act of “political vendetta”.
Gujarat has three seats in Rajya Sabha. While BJP president Amit Shah and Union Minister Smriti Irani would easily win two seats, it is in the third seat that the BJP has pitted Congress defctor Balwantsinh Rajput against Patel turning it into a contest.
With inputs from Johnson TA, Bengaluru