Monday, 30th October 2017

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Something else is spreading too: poaching

Four Congress MLAs in Gujarat resigned on Sunday

By Sanjay K. Jha in New Delhi
  • Published 16.03.20, 3:26 AM
  • Updated 16.03.20, 4:29 AM
  • 4 mins read
Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Kamal Nath leaves for the cabinet meeting, in Bhopal on Sunday, March 15, 2020. (PTI)

With the Kamal Nath government in Madhya Pradesh teetering on the brink, the BJP is being accused of delivering another lethal blow to the Congress by smashing its chances of getting two candidates elected to the Rajya Sabha from Gujarat.

Four Congress MLAs in Gujarat resigned on Sunday. The setback hit the Congress at a time Madhya Pradesh governor Lalji Tandon had triggered panic in the party by ordering late on Saturday night that the floor test be conducted as early as Monday.

Madhya Pradesh chief minister Kamal Nath and the Congress MLAs who returned to Bhopal from Jaipur exuded confidence but party sources privately conceded that the government’s survival would be difficult.

In Gujarat, the Congress needed 74 votes to get its two veterans — Shaktisinh Gohil and Bharatsinh Solanki — elected to the Rajya Sabha. The party had 73 MLAs and the two candidates would have easily romped home with the support of the Independent MLA, Jignesh Mevani. One NCP legislator and two Bharatiya Tribal Party MLAs could also have helped it under normal circumstances.

But the four resignations mean the Congress is down to 69 and, most probably, out of reckoning for the second seat.

Congress spokesperson Randeep Surjewala said: “It is shocking but not surprising that at a time when the nation is struggling with an unprecedented economic recession and is in the midst of a global health epidemic, the BJP is focused on advancing its petty and insular political prospects.”

Gohil and Solanki are the pillars of the Congress in Gujarat and have valiantly fought Narendra Modi’s politics over the years. Some Congress leaders had expressed doubt the moment these two names were finalised.

Reflecting the cynical mood, a Congress source had said: “Initially, Gohil and another candidate were being considered. The other candidate would have managed the BJP and sailed through. It is doubtful the BJP will silently watch these two powerful leaders — Gohil and Solanki — enter Parliament easily.”

The country had witnessed one of the ugliest defection games during the election of Ahmed Patel to the Rajya Sabha in 2017.

The Congress Legislature Party leader in the Gujarat Assembly, Paresh Dhanani, told The Telegraph from Ahmedabad: “The numbers were clear — two seats for the BJP and two for the Congress. That’s the people’s will. But that’s not how democracy works under Modi-Shah. We have seen their sanskar in the Gujarat election of 2017 and in so many other states. The country saw how the government was snatched in Karnataka. Now we are witness to the ugly drama in Madhya Pradesh.”

Asked why he was blaming the BJP when Congress MLAs were resigning, Dhanani said: “It is not that simple: money, blackmail, coercion… every possible trick is being deployed. They got elected using the democratic process but are now using money and muscle to subvert democracy. This is a national crisis, not a party issue. MLAs are threatened and weighed in money, and elected governments get hijacked. Can we treat this as normal, legitimate?”

The BJP fielded its third candidate, former Congress veteran Narhari Amin who had joined his new party in 2012. It has 29 surplus votes and can snatch a victory with some depletion in the Congress ranks.

The Congress woke up late and began shifting its Gujarat MLAs to Jaipur from where the legislators of Madhya Pradesh left on Sunday for Bhopal to participate in Monday’s Assembly proceedings.

The Rajya Sabha election is on March 26 and the drama is expected to continue till then. Resort hide-and-seek and horse-trading have become so common and acceptable that politicians joke about adding a chapter in the Constitution on this seemingly incurable disease.

BJP leader Narottam Mishra said in Bhopal: “Why are they blaming us? They are in power, they have the police and we have kidnapped the MLAs? They can’t keep their MLAs and blame us. Their government is falling and we will step in. That’s all.”

Former chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan has said it’s an internal matter of the Congress and the BJP has nothing to do with it.

The fact, however, is that the resignations of Congress MLAs hiding in a Banglaore resort were handed over to the Speaker by BJP leaders. Karnataka police not only gave them protection but prevented Congress leaders from meeting their MLAs. The Congress hopes these MLAs will change their stance and support the Kamal Nath government after reaching Bhopal.

The 19 Congress MLAs released separate videos on Sunday to iterate their allegiance to Jyotiraditya Scindia, who has joined the BJP.

Interestingly, all the MLAs aired the same text, talking of a lack of confidence in the Kamal Nath government and demanding CRPF security. They also pleaded with their families not to lodge complaints with the police, fearing arrest after arrival in Bhopal. The Congress posted one such video in which an MLA seems to be prompted from behind on what to say.

Kamal Nath said: “The floor test will have meaning only if the MLAs are free. The MLAs are captive now.”

He wrote to home minister Amit Shah on Saturday to get the MLAs freed. He didn’t receive any reply.

The Madhya Pradesh Speaker on Sunday rued that he had waited the whole day for the MLAs who had resigned but they didn’t turn up. He refused to clarify his position on the floor test the governor has ordered on Monday.

There was speculation that the Speaker would not allow a floor test until he had spoken to the MLAs who had resigned. The MLAs this evening wrote to the Speaker that they could not return without adequate security and their resignations should be accepted. This creates space for the Speaker to refuse an immediate floor test.

The Congress may also move court to get the MLAs freed if they don’t return on Monday.

The BJP held a series of meetings despite claiming not to be involved in the process. While the first meeting took place at Union minister Narendra Singh Tomar’s home in the morning, the second, attended by Scindia with other senior Madhya Pradesh politicians, took place at Amit Shah’s residence in New Delhi.

Chouhan met BJP MLAs at a hotel near Gurgaon and a BJP delegation called on the governor in Bhopal to insist that the floor test not be put off under any circumstance.