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Congress flies its Gujarat MLAs to Bengaluru as party grapples with exodus

The Congress is moving its legislators to another location after six successive resignations put the party in troubled waters ahead of the Rajya Sabha polls in August.

india Updated: Jul 29, 2017 00:15 IST
HT Correspondents
HT Correspondents
Hindustan Times, Ahmedabad/New Delhi
Congress,Gujarat,Congress MLAs
Gujarat Congress MLA Shailesh Parmar addresses reporters outside the airport in Ahmedabad.(ANI/ Twitter)

Congress flew most of its Gujarat MLAs out of the state in a midnight flight to Bengaluru on Friday, an apparent attempt to keep the flock together after a string of resignations rocked the party.

Six MLAs have resigned from the party in the last two days, reducing the party’s strength in the Gujarat assembly to 51 and spelling trouble for Ahmed Patel, Congress president Sonia Gandhi’s political secretary, who has filed papers seeking a fifth term in the Rajya Sabha from the state.

“The Congress MLAs have been threatened, coerced and bribed by the BJP in Gujarat. They are no longer feeling safe here. So they have decided to go out of the state”, said senior Congress leader Arjun Modhwadia.

Congress chief whip Shailesh Parmar said, “44 MLAs are flying out together to Bengaluru.”

According to reports, they will stay at a resort until polling on August 8.

Congress spokesperson Abhishek Singhvi had earlier in the day accused the BJP of using “crores of rupees” as well as “muscle and state power” in Gujarat to engineer defections.

“Crores of rupees have been spent in horse-trading in Gujarat by the BJP. You have seen this naked drama... The policy of the BJP in Gujarat is - by hook or by crook, come to power by breaking all laws,” he told the media in New Delhi.

The BJP denied the charge. Union minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said the allegations are “false and laughable” and shows the party’s “utter desperation”.

Patel is comfortably placed in terms of numbers. The assembly strength is down to 176, after resignation of six MLAs. That means he will need the votes of 45 lawmakers to romp home.

Besides, the Congress hopes two NCP lawmakers will vote for Patel.

Congress strategists fear more desertions, considering that 11 party MLAs had said to have cross-voted for the BJP-led NDA candidate, Ram Nath Kovind, in the July 17 presidential election.

But with each resignation, the number of required votes for Patel will go down too.

“The Congress MLAs have been threatened, coerced and bribed by the BJP in Gujarat. They are no longer feeling safe here. So they have decided to go out of the state,” said party leader Arjun Modhwadia about moving party legislators to another location.

Political parties have often shepherded away their legislators when rivals have made a move to poach them, the latest most prominent instance being the time AIADMK factions in the wake of Tamil Nadu chief minister J Jayalalithaa’s death.

More than a hundred AIADMK legislators were taken to retreat in February to stop them from running away to the rival camp, confining them to a four-star luxury facility with guards that kept the media out.

The Congress’s chief spokesperson, Randeep Surjewala, and four lawmakers alleged in Ahmedabad during the day that the BJP was trying to lure the MLAs to resign.

Puna Gamit, the MLA for Vyara, alleged that an IPS officer offered him “Rs 5 crore to Rs 10 crore” to quit. Anand Chaudhary, another MLA, made similar charges against the BJP.

The legislator for Dang, Mangal Gavit, said: “A man from a co-operative sector approached me on July 21 and 22, and told me that the BJP will give me a ticket in the next assembly elections and sponsor the poll expenditure.”

Surjewala requested the Election Commission to take note of the charges and called the BJP’s alleged action a “murder of democracy” and “violation of constitutional law”.

The BJP dismissed the allegations but the two parties traded barbs in the Rajya Sabha, leading to repeated disruptions.

Congress parliamentarians alleged that their MLAs were being “abducted” in Gujarat.

Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi, minister of state for parliamentary affairs, riposted that the Congress should go to the Election Commission, which is responsible for free and fair elections.

In Ahmedabad, deputy chief minister Nitin Patel called the resignations a result of factionalism in the Congress and for choosing Patel again for a Rajya Sabha seat despite opposition in the ranks.

“The BJP is not giving them any post or doing a favour,” he said.

The BJP initially fielded party chief Amit Shah and Union minister Smriti Irani in two of the three vacant seats in Gujarat for the Upper House. On Friday, one of the Congress turncoats, Balwantsinh Rajput, filed his nomination as the third BJP candidate.

The Rajya Sabha election in the state turned intriguing after Congress lawmakers Rajput, Tejshree Patel and Prahlad Patel resigned and joined the BJP this Thursday. Colleagues Manshin Chauhan, Channa Chaudhary and Ramsinh Parmar followed suit the next day.

First Published: Jul 28, 2017 22:51 IST