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Double blow to BJP on poll-eve
30-MLA scare in Gujarat

Ahmedabad/ New Delhi, July 18: Rebel BJP MLA Dhiru Gajera’s appeal to other dissidents to vote for Pratibha Patil in the presidential poll has unsettled the party, in Ahmedabad and Delhi.

A wary state BJP leadership today herded around 100 MLAs to a water park near Mehsana after a legislature party meeting was skipped by the remaining 30, and circulated a letter that is being seen as a whip.

In a routine that is now familiar before crucial trust votes — but possibly a first in a presidential election — the MLAs will go directly from the water park to Gandhinagar tomorrow to vote in the new President and attend the two-day Assembly session.

In Delhi, party president Rajnath Singh said: “We have confirmed news that six of them (the 30 who skipped today’s meet) are going to vote for Pratibha Patil. Of these, some are under suspension. But we will not take action against anyone.”

This was in contrast to what spokesperson Prakash Javadekar said in the afternoon: “Indiscipline of any kind will not be brooked. If some MLAs are playing into the Congress’s hands, they will pay a price for it.”

Chief minister Narendra Modi and state BJP chief whip Jitendra Sukhadia have written a joint letter asking all MLAs to attend the House tomorrow, which is being seen as a whip. But party state president Purushottam Rupal claimed none had been issued.

There is no provision for issuing a whip in the election to the posts of President and Vice-President. The Election Commission upheld this rule yesterday in response to an appeal from the BJP to stop the United National Progressive Alliance from asking its members to abstain.

A dissident Gujarat MLA said Modi had “circumvented” this provision by getting Sukhadia to issue the “whip” asking legislators to attend the Assembly session beginning tomorrow. “It is a ruse to collect the MLAs under the eyes of the chief whip and the Speaker. They will be so scared that they will have no choice but to vote for the NDA’s candidate.”

The rebels, such as Gajera and Gordhan Zadaphia, want to vote for Patil to teach Modi and his mentor L.K. Advani a lesson. Advani has been at the forefront of the BJP’s presidential campaign, pushing Bhairon Singh Shekhawat.

Fear of party rebels voting for Pratibha cast a shadow over an election-eve dinner hosted for Shekhawat and the NDA by Atal Bihari Vajpayee, as well as the BJP’s plans for the vice-presidential election.

With Shekhawat certain to lose, sources said Vajpayee, Rajnath and some other leaders questioned the “wisdom” of the BJP having a shot at the vice-presidential contest.

The BJP had been reconciled to losing the votes of some allies — the Janata Dal (S) also announced today it would abstain, like the Trinamul Congress, while the Shiv Sena is supporting Pratibha — but the news from Gujarat was a blow.

Citing a letter written by Advani to all Gujarat MLAs, a dissident pointed out that the senior leader “himself has said we should vote according to our conscience. So we will vote according to our conscience and this should not be considered defiance. There is no question of whip”.

As the BJP struggled, UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi’s political secretary Ahmed Patel is said to have filled her in on the “breaking” news.

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