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Cong Gujarat flight

Ahmedabad, Feb. 25: Seven Congress MLAs have joined the BJP over the past few months — five in the past week — and argued they switched parties to respect the “sentiments” of Gujaratis who want to see Narendra Modi as Prime Minister.

One Surat MLA was a second-generation Congress leader, the district chief of the party in the city and had organised a rally for Rahul Gandhi recently.

Prabhudas Vasava, the two-time MLA from Madvi in Surat and the district Congress chief, stunned many when he quit yesterday. He is the only one of the seven who was never with the BJP — his father was a Congress minister and stayed with the party for life.

The other six MLAs have at some point been with the BJP. “So for most of them, it is like a homecoming,” said a BJP insider.

They were seen as loyalists of leader of Opposition and former chief minister Shankersinh Vaghela, who had followed him out of the BJP and into the Congress. Vaghela has denied speculation that he was also planning a return to the BJP.

The Congress, left with 51 legislators in the 182-member Gujarat Assembly, has alleged foul play. “It is inducement, money and the promise of a (Lok Sabha) ticket. Every MLA who joined the BJP was bought for Rs 10 crore,” said state Congress chief Arjun Modhwadia.

State BJP spokesperson Vijay Rupani denied the allegation, saying the Congress was a “sinking ship”. “Those joining us are doing so unconditionally as they see no future in the Congress.”

Chhabil Patel seemed to agree, having realised after 18 years in the Congress that he was in the “wrong place”. “Now I am in the right place,” the Kutch MLA said. Like the others, he claimed that he was rejoining the party “respecting the sentiments of Gujaratis who want to see Modi as their PM”.

The first Congress leader to join the BJP was Vitthal Radadiya, who resigned as party MP in March 2013 to make the switch.

But Modi’s critics are asking why he is inducting so many Congress leaders into the BJP when he claims the Congress is corrupt.