Amid signs of the Congress’ ship sinking rapidly, there is a rush among its leaders to desert the party. A day after three Congress MLAs resigned from the party and joined the BJP in poll-bound Gujarat, two more legislators switched sides and joined the saffron party on Friday, denting the chances of Congress leader Ahmed Patel to make it to the Rajya Sabha from the state.A third legislator also quit the Congress but did not join the BJP. A worried Congress flew nine of its Gujarat MLAs to Bangaluru to prevent poaching by the BJP.
Vasda MLA Chhana Chaudhry and Balasinor MLA Mansinh Chauhan are the latest Congress leaders to join the BJP. Thasra MLA Ramsinh Parmar also quit the Congress but not announced his next move.
All of them have submitted their resignations to Speaker Ramanlal Vora. The latest tally of legislators abandoning the Congress in Gujarat stands at eight, threatening to jeopardise the election of Mr Patel, political secretary to party president Sonia Gandhi, in the August 8 poll for Rajya Sabha seats. While six Congress MLAs quit the party in the last 24 hours, senior leader Shankersinh Vaghela and his son, Mahendrasinh Vaghela left the party earlier.
Leader of Opposition in Rajya Sabha Ghulam Nabi Azad accused the BJP of “using the state machinery and money power to lure away Congress MLAs for the Rajya Sabha polls”. While the BJP candidates for Rajya Sabha polls – party president Amit Shah and Union minister Smriti Irani are expected to sail through, Mr Patel is likely to face an uphill task. Mr Patel, who is aiming for a fifth term in the Rajya Sabha, could be in danger as the BJP has fielded Balwantsinh Rajput, who switched over from the Congress to the saffron camp, on Thursday. Four candidates are now in the fray for three RS vacancies from Gujarat. It may be recalled that in the recently concluded presidential polls nearly 11 Congress MLAs had voted in favour of NDA candidate Ram Nath Kovind.
Mr Ahmed’s defeat will be a major “loss of face” for the Congress and the party was going all out to ensure his victory, sources said. After the desertions on Friday, the Congress strength in Gujarat Assembly has come down from 57 to 49 MLAs. With eight Congress MLAs quitting in the past few days, the strength of the Assembly has also been reduced from 182 to 174. To win, each RS candidate would require 43 votes. With 121 MLAs in BJP’s kitty, both Mr Shah and Ms Irani would sail through. The battle could rage for the third seat between Mr Patel and Mr Rajput. The BJP has 35 spare votes and Mr Rajput would need only eight more votes to defeat Mr Patel. If more Congress MLAs quit the party before August 8, it could virtually become a herculean task for Ms Gandhi’s aide to enter the Upper House for the fifth time from Gujarat. Congress in-charge of Gujarat Ashok Ghelot huffed and puffed and lashed out at the BJP saying: “In pursuit of power and grabbing Rajya Sabha seats, the BJP is engaged in lowly tactics of causing defections in the Congress by horse trading.”