The Bharatiya Janata Party has cracked the whip on rebel MLAs who voted for President Pratibha Patil. Two days after her election, the party high command suspended five Gujarat MLAs for supporting Patil to show defiance against Chief Minister Narendra Modi.
Throughout the campaign, senior BJP leader Sushma Swaraj, as spokesperson for NDA-backed independent candidate Bhairon Singh Shekhawat, quoted the Election Commission’s ruling to hold no action could be taken against any MP or MLA for voting against their party’s line.
Swaraj was justifying senior party L K Advani’s call for a ‘conscience vote’ in the presidential election in seeking the votes of MPs and MLAs’ of other parties for their candidate.
In Madhya Pradesh, the BJP was trying to identify the 11 party MLAs who deliberately invalidated their votes to express dissent against the leadership.
In Gujarat, at least seven BJP MLAs cross-voted on Friday. Of the BJP’s strength of 130 in a House of 182, Shekhawat polled only 123 votes. While a Congress MLA Nimaben Acharya voted for the BJP, two votes were invalid. The suspended MLAs include the most vocal dissident, Dhirubhai Gajera and three former ministers, Gordhan Zhadaphia, Bavkubhai Unghad and Becharbhai Badhani.
"Our message is loud and clear -- indiscipline will not be tolerated," said BJP spokesman Prakash Javadekar, who denied the suspensions were linked to the cross-voting.
By voting for Patil, the MLAs had challenged Modi who had issued a veiled threat that he would know if any one had cross-voted against Shekhawat.
Gajera remained unfazed by his suspension. “People are no longer scared of Modi. This (the suspension order) is a murder of democracy and another proof of dictatorship in Gandhinagar. I have been suspended for speaking the truth."
Justifying the suspension, state BJP chief Purushottam Rupala said the MLAs had been defaming the party and the chief minister for long. Their latest misdemeanour was using the Congress platform to make anti-party pronouncements, he added.
In Madhya Pradesh, Chief Minister Shivraj Singh admitted the issue was serious and the BJP would take up the matter at the organisational level. He, however, did not reply if the invalidation of votes indicated dissidence against him.
The unidentified rebels identically wrote either ‘Jai Shri Ram’ or ‘Hari Om’ on the ballot papers. “That confirmed the sabotage was pre-planned,” BJP leaders said.
What could also be a setback to Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Raman Singh, two BJP MLAs preferred not to vote for Shekhawat. "This is an indication of bigger things to come," a dissident MLA said.