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After Shankersinh Vaghela, Gujarat Congress’ chief whip exits with 2 MLAs

LiveMint logoLiveMint 27-07-2017 Maulik Pathak

Mumbai: After its tallest leader in Gujarat Shankersinh Vaghela announced his exit from the party few days ago, the party was in for a rude shock on Thursday at three more legislators including chief whip Balvantsinh Rajput decided to quit the party and are likely to join BJP.

Apart from Rajput ,who is MLA from Siddhpur, P.I. Patel, Congress legislator from Vijapur, and Tejshri Patel from Viramgam assembly tendered their resignation to Assembly Speaker Ramanlal Vora.

While the writing was on the wall about Congress’ leaders in Gujarat heading for a split in Gujarat due to infighting, Rajput’s exit might pose a threat to the party’s prospects in the upcoming Rajya Sabha elections.

Rajput is related to Vaghela by marriage and there is a strong buzz that he would contest the Rajya Sabha elections against Ahmed Patel, Sonia Gandhi’s political secretary who is fighting to get re-elected for a fifth term in the Upper House.

“While all these years, the Rajya Sabha contests in Gujarat have been fought unopposed, this time around it would be decided by way of voting,” said a senior BJP party leader who did not wish to be named.

He said that while Congress leaders might cross-vote for Rajput if he decides to contest as an independent and that many BJP leaders including one JD(U) MLA would vote for him.

Rajput is the owner of Gokul Refoils Ltd, one of the leading edible oil manufacturers in the country.

The deadline for filing the nomination paper for Rajya Sabha is 28 July. Elections will be held for three seats in the state on 8 August and the BJP, with its big majority in the state assembly, is comfortably placed to win two. BJP chief Amit Shah and textile minister Smriti Irani would contest for the two seats. For the third seat, Congress has named Patel while BJP is looking to back a candidate who is pitted against Congress.

While Rajput could not be contacted on his phone, a person close to Vaghela said that Rajput’s name was more or less confirmed for the Rajya Sabha candidate.

Congress spokesperson Manish Doshi confirmed that the three MLAs had quit the party.

On 11 July, Congress lawmakers in Gujarat voted for the ruling BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) candidate Ram Nath Kovind in the presidential election, instead of opposition-backed candidate Meira Kumar.

Last week Vaghela tendered his resignation as leader of the opposition in the Gujarat assembly. The ex-chief minister however said that he would give up his membership of the house on 15 August, after the Rajya Sabha polls in the state are held.

As many as 36 MLAs (out of 57) had in April urged the central leadership to declare Vaghela as the CM candidate. One of main demands of Vaghela’s supporters was that he be declared as the chief ministerial candidate of the party but this has been declined by the Congress central leadership.

The ruling BJP in Gujarat is looking to win 150+ out of 182 assembly seats in the upcoming state elections by poaching disgruntled Congress MLAs. The party hopes to capitalize the rift within an already tottering Congress which is trying to find its footing and launch its election campaign to unseat the long incumbent BJP.

While rumours have been rife about the senior Congress leaders including Vaghela switching sides to BJP, a repeat of what BJP managed in UP with the defection of Congress’ Rita Bahuguna, could cause huge collateral damage to Congress’ quest for power in a state where it has not ruled for more than two decades now.

BJP’s slogan for Gujarat elections ‘UP mein 300+, Gujarat mein 150+’ is also inspired from BJP’s massive victory in recent state elections in Uttar Pradesh.

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