Marking a new low in its turbulent journey after losing power in the Centre six years ago, the Congress Tuesday lost one of its most prominent national leaders, and appeared set to lose its government in Madhya Pradesh, too, with four-time MP and former Union minister Jyotiraditya Scindia walking out of the party along with at least 22 state legislators.
Scindia posted his resignation letter on Twitter minutes after meeting Prime Minister Narendra Modi along with Union Home Minister Amit Shah Tuesday morning. BJP sources said he is expected to join the party in Bhopal soon and become its official candidate for the Rajya Sabha elections from Madhya Pradesh — and later, a Union minister.
With the last day of nominations on March 13, the BJP is likely to announce its Rajya Sabha candidates Wednesday, sources said, after a meeting of its Central Election Committee Tuesday was “inconclusive”.
At the same time, 19 Congress MLAs, who had shifted to Bengaluru Monday afternoon, emailed their resignations to Governor Lalji Tandon. Another Congress MLA, Bisahulal Singh, who returned from Bengaluru two days ago, joined the BJP in the presence of former MP CM Shivraj Singh Chouhan. Aidal Singh Kansana and Manoj Chaudhary are the two other MLAs who have switched sides.
Late in the night, both parties scrambled to move their MLAs to “safe locations” in neighbouring states.
Left deeply embarrassed by the developments, the Congress mounted a desperate bid to save face by claiming — after Scindia posted online his resignation letter dated March 9 to party chief Sonia Gandhi — that it had expelled the 49-year-old, once known to have been close to the Gandhi family, “with immediate effect” for “anti-party activities”.
But, with the state Budget session starting March 16, the Congress-led government in MP has now been reduced to a minority.
On Monday, the strength of the state assembly stood at 228 — apart from 114 Congress legislators, the state government had the support of four Independents, two BSP MLAs and one SP MLA; the BJP had 107 members.
However, the resignations Tuesday of 22 Congress MLAs have reduced the party’s strength to 92, and the government’s support to 99. It also brings down the majority needed in the assembly to form a government to 104, well within the reach of the BJP.
— Jyotiraditya M. Scindia (@JM_Scindia) March 10, 2020
The Congress, however, claimed that 94 legislators attended its legislature party meeting held at Chief Minister Kamal Nath’s official residence Tuesday. Congress leaders P C Sharma and Shobha Oza said the government “will survive” because it “has the numbers”.
They claimed that some Scindia loyalists told the party that they were misled into believing that their signatures, which figure on the resignation letters, were meant for his Rajya Sabha nomination. “They will vote with the Congress during the trust vote,” Oza claimed.
Sources quoted Nath as saying at the meeting: “We are not disappointed because we have seen the 1977 phase when even Indira Gandhi lost an election. The Congress was in crisis then and it appeared that it may not be back on its feet again but it found its feet again and ruled for many years. Even Sanjay Gandhi was jailed but we stood with the Congress because we were honest and committed to the party.’’
During the meeting, where legislators backed Nath, a resolution moved by Legislative Affairs Minister Govind Singh was passed, condemning the BJP’s “attempt to violate the principles of democracy”. Sources said many of the MLAs are likely to be taken to party-ruled Rajasthan.
Earlier, Nath asked the Governor in a letter to remove the six Ministers in the Scindia camp: Labour Minister Mahendra Sisodia, Women and Child Development Minister Imarti Devi, Transport Minister Govind Singh Rajput, Health Minister Tulsi Silawat, School Education Minister Prabhuram Chaudhary, and Food and Civil Supplies Minister Pradyumna Singh Tomar.
Former minister and senior BJP leader Bhupendra Singh, meanwhile, handed over the “original resignation letters” of the 19 MLAs in Bengaluru to Speaker N P Prajapati, who said he would take “an appropriate decision”.
The state BJP also held its legislature party meeting Tuesday, when 102 MLAs turned up. Later, many of the MLAs were taken to two buses waiting outside the party’s headquarters. The legislators claimed they did not know where they were being taken but said they would return after five days. Sources said the buses were headed to Haryana or Delhi.
In his resignation letter, Scindia described his exit as “a path that has been drawing itself out over the last year”. Indicating his disillusionment with the Congress, he wrote: “While my aim and purpose remain the same as it has always been from the very beginning, to serve the people of my state and country, I believe I am unable to do this anymore within this party.”
Among the first to welcome Scindia’s decision was his aunt Yashodhara Raje Scindia, a senior BJP leader and former MP minister. Describing the move as “homecoming”, she said: “The way he has been welcomed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and (Union Home Minister) Amit Shah shows their respect towards Rajmata (Vijaya Raje Scindia)…In the end, everybody needs self-respect.”
Scindia is the son of the late Madhavrao Scindia, who was a prominent Congress leader, and grandson of the late Rajamata Vijayraje Scindia, who was one of the leading faces of the BJP from its initial days. Tuesday marks the 75th birth anniversary of Madhavrao Scindia.
With the Congress set to lose power in a state where it had staged a comeback in December 2018 after 15 years of BJP rule, Scindia’s move triggered a war of words between the two parties.
Senior Congress leader and Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot accused Scindia of betraying the “trust of the people and the ideology” and called him a leader with “self-indulgent political ambitions”.
BJP’s Chouhan hit back. “For some Congress leaders, when Scindia was in Congress he was a maharaja, now he is a mafia? You can’t have such double standards,” he said, referring to a comment by Nath accusing a “mafia” of destabilising his government.
Scindia has been upset with the Congress leadership ever since it backed Nath for the top post of Chief Minister. He was also keen to lead the party in the state, but the state leadership, with Nath and former CM Digvijaya Singh holding sway, did not oblige.
The crisis escalated this week with the party not giving Scindia a clear signal that it would back him to get elected to the Rajya Sabha. Sources said the state leadership conveyed to Scindia that he would be the second preference after Digvijaya Singh, whose term in the Upper House ends on April 9.
In Bengaluru, the 19 rebel MLAs, who are holed up in resorts on the city’s outskirts, have sought security from Karnataka Police during the duration of their stay.
Those who signed the request to the DGP include five MP ministers, Sisodia, Silawat, Devi, Rajput and Chaudhary. The other signatories are: Ranveer Jatav, Brajendra Singh Yadav, Raksha Santram Saroniya, Jajpal Singh, Brajendra Singh Yadav, Suresh Dhakad, Rajyavardhan Singh, O P S Bhadoria, Kamalesh Jatav, Munnalal Goyal, Jaswant Jatav, Raghuraj Kansana, Hardeep Singh Dang and Giriraj.—(With Johnson T A/Bengaluru)
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