The Gujarat Congress is facing a stiff dilemma as Rajya Sabha elections are due in a few days and Assembly elections are not too far away either.
On one hand, the party is struggling hard to keep its flock together ahead of the impending Rajya Sabha polls, as it has accused the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) of poaching its MLAs.
On the other hand, the party MLAs, who were sequestered away to a five-star luxury resort in Bengaluru to avoid horse trading, are afraid they may lose out on the opportunity to connect with the people at a time when the state is reeling under one of the worst spates in years. The natural beneficiary, in this case, has been the BJP.
Gujarat is under a spate of floods due to torrential rain and release of water from dams, which has affected at least 4.5 lakh people in the state. Relief operation has been intensified as the rains have abated and key party leaders have been participating in relief work. Not only has the state's chief minister Vijay Rupani visited the affected villages in Patan district, but Prime Minister Narendra Modi also conducted aerial survey, at a time when Congress has minimal presence in the state. The prime minister also announced a relief package of Rs 500 crore.
Besides, according to a report in The Indian Express, the BJP state unit also sent out truckloads of relief material from the party’s state headquarters at Koba in Gandhinagar on Monday.
The BJP's hyperactivity in the region, as the report points out, can be seen in light of the fact that four of the nine Assembly seats in Banaskantha district are represented by Congress MLAs. The Congress legislators, meanwhile, have failed to make a public appearance as they are lodged away in Karnataka, with the central leadership fearing defection ahead of the Rajya Sabha elections due on 8 August.
The election will be a clash of heavyweights from both parties as the Congress has nominated Ahmed Patel while the BJP has nominated its national president Amit Shah and Union minister Smriti Irani, along with Balwantsinh Rajput, who recently defected to the saffron party from Congress along with five other MLAs.
Congress is working hard to stave off a humiliating defeat for its lone candidate, Patel, a Congress veteran and a close aide of Sonia Gandhi. The BJP, meanwhile, is determined to aggressively exploit the situation and it has been sharpening attack against the grand old party, while reasserting its presence on the ground at the same time.
A report in The Week stated that in an apparent effort to reap political gains off the situation, BJP electoral symbol has been found imprinted on the relief material being distributed in the region. This comes in addition to the fact that the local party leadership is leaving no stones unturned in propagating the relief work carried out by the state party unit and the BJP-led state government.
Besides this, the saffron party is likely to trump Congress in the Rajya Sabha election too, for which the party has painstakingly shepherded all its MLAs away from the state at a crucial time. The BJP is already in majority in the Assembly and it has managed to lure six Congress MLAs on its side. While the anti-defection laws ensure that these MLAs can't vote in the Rajya Sabha polls, and will also have to give up their seat in the Assembly, this will be a strategic loss for Congress more than it will benefit BJP.
However, BJP is not the only problem the grand old party must face. Tunes of dissidence emerging from within are equally damaging for the Congress.
Apart from the six MLAs the BJP allegedly 'poached,' Shankersinh Vaghela, another dissident stalwart, also recently walked out of the party, taking Congress' tally down by seven.
Minus the defectors, the Congress may still has some surplus votes above the tally needed for Patel to win, according to The Times of India. However, rumours have it that signs of dissent are loud and strong among the 44 MLAs lodged away in Bengaluru. The report quoted sources as saying that at least three MLAs are insisting on returning to Gujarat to participate in relief work in their constituencies, while others are said to have had an altercation with their group leader and AICC secretary, Naresh Raval.
It is also noteworthy here that 11 of the 57 Congress MLAs cross-voted in favour of Ram Nath Kovind in the presidential elections. This time around, the stakes of cross-voting are even higher with the defection of Vaghela and Rajput, the latter being the Rajya Sabha candidate of the BJP. Rajput is also a relative of Vaghela, and the former state Congress chief whip, so he is likely to still have supporters within the party.
Besides this, IANS also reported that of the 44 MLAs staying in Bengaluru, at least a dozen were reported to be "restive", complaining they were cut off from their people and constituencies.
"We have been brought and kept here against our will. We want to go back to our constituencies as they are flood-hit and our people are affected," one of the legislators was heard telling their manager Naresh Rawal in Gujarati.
"We have no access to our people, as our cell phones were taken away soon after we came here. Some who still have mobiles are unable to contact their people due to jammers installed at the resort," another lawmaker grumbled.
The Eagleton Golf Resort, where the legislators are lodged in 35 deluxe rooms, has been turned into a fortress, with heavy security and 24x7 surveillance.
With inputs from agencies
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Updated Date: Aug 01, 2017 15:09:11 IST