New Delhi: With the resignation of three more Congress MLAs from Gujarat assembly this week, the BJP is in a vantage position to win three out of the four Rajya Sabha Seats from the state.
The elections for four seats to the Upper House are scheduled on 19 June, which was earlier supposed to take place on 26 March.
The resignations have come as a setback to the Congress because since March, eight party MLAs have resigned, reducing its strength in the assembly to 65.
A senior BJP leader said the party, which has 103 MLAs in the assembly, is now confident of ensuring victory for its third candidate.
The leader, who didn’t want to be named, told ThePrint the party is looking to settle an old score with the Congress over the 2017 Rajya Sabha victory of senior leader Ahmed Patel.
The number game
The total strength of the assembly is 182, but two seats remain vacant in the legislature “because of litigation due to poll-related disputes”. So the actual strength was 180, but it further came down to 172 after the resignation of eight Congress MLAs.
A party needs 35 first preference votes to win a seat as the strength is now 172.
Five Congress MLAs resigned in March and in the last two days, three more quit. On Thursday, MLAs Akshay Patel and Jeetu Choudhary resigned, while on Friday, MLA Brijesh Merja followed suit.
For the Rajya Sabha elections, the Congress has fielded Shaktisinh Gohil as its first preference candidate and former state Congress chief Bharatsinh Solanki as the second preference.
The party is banking on the two MLAs of Bharatiya Tribal Party (BTP), the one from the NCP, and Independent MLA and Dalit youth leader Jignesh Mevani to ensure victory for both the candidates.
The BJP, meanwhile has fielded Abhay Bhardwaj, advocate and Chief Minister Vijay Rupani’s trusted man, Ramilaben Bara, party vice-president, and Narhari Amin, a former Congress leader.
Amin joined the BJP in 2012 after he was denied a ticket from the Congress.
Congress losing chance
The Congress could have won both the seats in March on the strength of 68 MLAs and with the support of other parties and Independents. But with the resignation of three more MLAs now it seems impossible to ensure victory for its second preference candidate, Solanki.
The party can win the second seat if it doesn’t lose any more MLAs and gets the first preference votes of four MLAs — BTP’s Chhotubhai Vasava and Mahesh Vasava, NCPs Kandhal Jadeja and Dalit leader Mevani.
Jadeja is, however, expected to vote for the BJP and BTP’s support for the Congress isn’t certain. The two BTP MLAs had voted in favour of Foreign Minister S. Jaishanker when he was elected to the Rajya Sabha from Gujarat.
‘More MLAs will leave Congress’
A Gujarat minister, who didn’t want to be named, told ThePrint the BJP couldn’t be blamed for resignations of Congress MLAs.
“The Congress is a sinking ship and they are deserting (the party) due to unhappiness with the leadership. Why blame the BJP if they are tendering resignations? We are confident of winning all three seats. More MLAs will leave the Congress. There is still two weeks to win the match,” he added.
State BJP vice-president K.C. Patel shared similar sentiments.
“BJP isn’t doing anything to break the Congress. This is internal fighting of Congress. Local MLAs want Bharat Singh Solanki as the first candidate, but Delhi high command wants to send Shaktisinh Gohil to the Rajya Sabha. This is why MLAs are revolting and sending resignations. Where is the question of engineered defections,” he asked.
Leader of opposition in the assembly Paresh Dhanani, however, said the BJP is proficient in this resignation game and using money to win Rajya Sabha seats.
“The BJP has mastery in the resignation game. It has played this strategy from Karnataka to Madhya Pradesh, and even in Rajya Sabha. This is not new. They have used money power to topple governments. Now, they are using it to win Rajya Sabha seats,” he alleged.
‘BJP settling an old score’
The slew of resignations of Congress MLAs is a reminder of the dramatic 2017 Rajya Sabha election in Gujarat in which senior leader Ahmed Patel won by a slender margin. That time too, several Congress MLAs had resigned.
To defeat Patel, the BJP fielded a third candidate.
Patel needed 44 votes to win and he got the exact number of votes with the Election Commission holding the votes of two Congress rebel candidates invalid for showing their ballot papers to the BJP.
A second BJP told ThePrint: “By defeating the Congress’ second candidate, the BJP will settle an old score. There is a message from the top leadership to defeat Congress candidates.”