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EC seeks report from Gujarat, orders security for Cong MLAs amid poaching fears

The poll panel sought an enquiry report from the Chief Secretary of Gujarat by 5 pm on Monday “on the allegation made in the memorandum submitted by the Congress delegation today”.

india Updated: Jul 30, 2017 08:30 IST
Hiral Dave and Vikram Gopal
Hiral Dave and Vikram Gopal
Hindustan Times, Ahmedabad/Bengaluru
Gurajat Rajya Sabha polls,Guajarat,Congress
Congress leaders Ghulam Nabi Azad, Anand Sharma, Dr Abhishek Manu Singhvi, Vivek Tankha and Manish Tewari after meeting the Election Commission over the Gujarat crisis, in New Delhi on July 29, 2017. (Arun Sharma/HT Photo)

The Election Commission on Saturday sought a report from the Gujarat government over the Congress’ allegation that the Bharatiya Janata Party was engineering defections and resignations of its state lawmakers ahead of the August 8 Rajya Sabha polls.

The commission asked the Gujarat chief secretary to furnish a report by July 31. It also asked the state government to ensure proper security to all MLAs and their family members.

This came within hours after a Congress delegation submitted a memorandum to the chief election commissioner, demanding that a committee be set up to look into the use of what the party said was money and muscle power as well as the abuse of government machinery to engineer defections and resignations of Congress legislators.

The delegation comprising senior leaders Ghulam Nabi Azad, Anand Sharma and Manish Tewari wanted such a committee to complete the inquiry in a time-bound manner to ensure free and fair Rajya Sabha polls.

The poll panel’s directive came in the backdrop of six Congress MLAs resigning in the past two days and about half-a-dozen others reportedly preparing to launch a rebellion along with former chief minister Shankarsinh Vaghela, whose resignation from the Congress has triggered a crisis for the party.

The revolt by Congress MLAs threatens to jeopardise senior Congress leader Ahmed Patel’s bid for the third Rajya Sabha seat from Gujarat. BJP nominees for the two other seats — Amit Shah and Smriti Irani — are set to win comfortably. The saffron party has fielded a relative of Vaghela for the third seat to try to scuttle Patel’s chances.

To save its flock from poaching, the Congress shifted 41 MLAs to a luxury resort on the outskirts of Bengaluru and three more were likely to join them.

The August 8 election seemed to be going down to the wire with another Congress MLA — other than the six who resigned in the past two days to bring the party’s strength down to 51— revolting and two more expressing unhappiness with the party leadership.

“I am joining BJP with my supporters. It is just a matter of time,’’ Raghavji Patel, who represents Jamnagar Rural in the assembly told reporters on Saturday. Jamnagar (North) and Godhra MLAs said they would take a decision (whether to leave the party) soon. Jasdan MLA Bhola Gohil has been playing truant with state Congress leaders since Friday, said party sources.

For now, Ahmed Patel, Congress president Sonia Gandhi’s political secretary, seemed to have the requisite numbers. He needs the support of 45 MLAs in the assembly whose strength has been reduced to 176 due to resignations. If the Congress keeps the flock of 44 MLAs together in Bengaluru, Patel will romp home with the assured support of two NCP MLAs and one rebel BJP legislator. Congress leaders have also swung into action to pacify and win over half-a-dozen other MLAs who are close to Vaghela.

Meanwhile, ruling Karnataka Congress said on Saturday that MLAs from Gujarat came to Bengaluru on a pilgrimage.

Talking to reporters outside the Eagleton Golf Village resort, Congress MP D K Suresh said,

“They want to visit some temples. In the evening, they will let us know the places where they want to go. Accordingly, we will make suitable arrangements for them.”

On the choice of the resort, Suresh said Ramanagara district, where the resort is located, was chosen because of its history. “After all, Sholay (Bollywood blockbuster) was shot here,” he said.

Chief Minister Vijay Rupani dismissed the charges levelled by the Congress. “The Congress members have voluntarily resigned and joined the BJP. The party did not trust its own MLAs and for the same it took all of them to Bengaluru.”

First Published: Jul 29, 2017 21:42 IST