In another jolt to the Congress in Gujarat ahead of the Rajya Sabha polls, three party MLAs considered close to former opposition leader Shankarsinh Vaghela resigned from the assembly to join the Bhartiaya Janata Party (BJP) today. The resignation of Balwantsinh Rajput who was also the chief whip, Tejashreeben Patel and Prahlad Patel reduced the Congress's tally to 54 in the 182-seat assembly.
The development came at a time when the Congress has fielded its senior leader Ahmed Patel as its candidate for the Upper House in the election scheduled for August 8. Ahmed Patel, political secretary of Congress president Sonia Gandhi, yesterday filed his nomination papers from Gujarat for the Rajya Sabha polls. Of the total 11 Rajya Sabha members from the state, the term of three of them -- Smriti Irani and Dilipbhai Pandya (both BJP) and Ahmed Patel -- is ending on August 18.
Soon after MLAs' entry into the BJP, Rajput was announced by the saffron party the third Raja Sabha candidate in Gujarat, to contest against Patel. The part had yesterday nominated BJP president Amit Shah and re-nominated Union Minister Smriti Irani as other two candidates for the polls.
Informed sources told India TV that 10-15 more Congress MLAs could join the BJP before the Rajya Sabha polls.
Patel can sail through if he musters the support of 47 MLAs and the party is able to guard against further desertions from its legislative arm.
All three MLAs submitted their resignation letters to Assembly Speaker Ramanlal Vora at Gandhinagar and then went to BJP office where they formally joined the saffron party.
"Balwantsinh Rajput, Tejashreeben Patel and Prahlad Patel have given their resignation as sitting MLAs of their respective seats. They now cease to be the members the Legislative Assembly," Vora told PTI. The trio can't vote in the August 8 Rajya Sabha polls as they are no long members of the House, he said.
Rajput represents Siddhapur seat in Patan district, while Tejashreeben Patel was elected from Viramgam in Ahmedabad district. The third MLA, Prahlad Patel, was elected from Vijapur in Mehasana district.
Rajput, serving as the chief whip of the Congress in the assembly, is related to Vaghela as the former's son has married latter's grand-daughter.
The latest setback for the Congress comes almost a week after Vaghela left the party and also resigned as the Leader of Opposition.
However, he continues to be an MLA.
After tendering his resignation, Rajput said he was very upset with the Congress due to the allegations being levelled against him.
"I am in public life for 35 years. The people of Siddhapur know how much I have worked for them and for the party. However, it is sad that some persons (in the Congress) have started pointing fingers at me due to my family ties (with Vaghela). That is why I gave my resignation," he said.
Tejashreeben Patel also slammed the Congress, saying the party appears clueless about how to prepare and win the upcoming assembly polls in Gujarat.
"Since the last one-and-a-half years, many of us have been telling the party leaders to give prominent posts to Patels to get their votes in the assembly polls. However, nothing was done in this regard," she said.
Prahlad Patel said under the Congress "injustice" had been meted out to him and his community.
"I have strengthened the Congress at taluka and district levels. However, injustice was done to me as well as to the Patidar community.
"We made numerous representations to the party leaders to do more for the community, but party did not pay attention," he told reporters after submitting his resignation.
(With PTI inputs)