With three more of its MLAs resigning from the Gujarat assembly+ , and threat of more desertions looming large, a rattled Congress dispatched a plane-load of its MLAs to party-ruled Karnataka, to fend off more poaching attempts.
Sources in Bengaluru said that 46 party MLAs landed at Kempegowda airport late on Friday evening and were spirited to a nearby resort by Karnataka minister D K Shiva Kumar who has handled similar situations for Congress in the past.
Party circles in Ahmedabad, however, put the number of MLAs ensconced in the Karnataka capital at 40.
The panic response was triggered by the resignations of three more party MLAs, taking the number of MLAs who have quit the party in the last 24 hours to six.
Sources said that more MLAs had seemed set to resign, setting off alarm bells and leading the party managers to herd them to Bengaluru. Sources said they will return to Gandhinagar only on the eve of polling on August 8. Sources indicated that senior MLAs like Shaktisinh Gohil and Shailesh Parmar stayed put in Ahmedabad.
The three who resigned on Friday are Chhanabhai Choudhary, Mansinh Chauhan and Ramsinh Parmar. Parmar is the chairman of Amul Dairy
Sources in Ahmedabad said that the three MLAs had planned to resign on Saturday, and more resignations would have followed, the daily routine of desertions jeopardising the chances of party nominee Ahmed Patel, Sonia Gandhi’s political secretary, in the Rajya Sabha polls.
The battle had assumed importance because of Patel’s proximity to the Congress chief and because a setback for him in the RS polls may not augur well for the morale of the party when it is heading for assembly elections due by year-end.
The party had 57 MLAs in the 182-man assembly till the exodus began on Thursday. A spate of resignations has reduced the strength to 51
The mobile phones of at least a dozen party MLAs were switched off and attempts by the leadership to get in touch with them proved futile, leading the party managers to pen the stock.
If all the 182 MLAs (BJP has 121) were to vote in the Rajya Sabha elections, any candidate getting 46 votes stands to win. However, with the spate of resignations, this magical figure is likely to come down, creating an opening for BJP to bag the third seat too.
The party, after ensuring that the required number of votes are cast in favour of Amit Shah and Smriti Irani, can transfer surplus votes to its third nominee, Congress rebel Balwantsinh Rajput, besides giving him second-preference votes in ballots which are cast in favour of Shah and Irani.
Congress’s hopes of the support of two NCP MLAs remain intact, but the lone JD (U) MLA, Chhotu Vasava, looks doubtful, given the sudden development in Bihar.
Jitters in Congress over the threat of defections led it to attack BJP in Parliament and outside. The Rajya Sabha witnessed an uproar as Congress MPs forced repeated adjournments of the House alleging that the Gujarat police had “abducted” an MLA in the state.
The House was adjourned four times in the morning session as Congress members trooped into the well, raising anti-government slogans and charging the BJP with “stealing” MLAs to help its candidates bag berths in the Upper House.
Crying foul, Congress leaders in Ahmedabad alleged that bribes of Rs 5 crore to Rs 10 crore were being offered to each MLA to cross over.