- Congress accused BJP of using 'money, muscle and state power'
- Congress's Naresh Rawal said party forced to fly out the legislators
- Congress reduced to 51 MLAs in the 182-seat Gujarat assembly
Till late Friday evening, about 11 Congress MLAs had been sequestered in Rajkot, while 15 were at a resort in Borsad about 100 km from Ahmedabad, where party chief Bharatsinh Solanki held a meeting with them. In Delhi and Ahmedabad, the Congress accused the ruling BJP of using "money, muscle and state power" to engineer defections in Gujarat ahead of the crucial Rajya Sabha poll.
"Crores of rupees have been spent in horse-trading in Gujarat by the BJP... The policy of the BJP in Gujarat is - by hook or by crook, come to power by breaking all laws," alleged Congress spokesperson Abhishek Singhvi in Delhi. In Ahmedabad, the party got five legislators to issue a joint statement alleging they had been offered money to switch sides.
As the party herded its lawmakers into a commercial flight to Karnataka capital Bengaluru, senior Congress leader Naresh Rawal told NDTV the party had been forced to fly out the legislators "since the Gujarat government was harassing them and forcing them to cross over".
The Congress has already been reduced to 51 MLAs in the 182-seat Assembly.
Elections will be held on August 8 for three Rajya Sabha seats. While the BJP, which has a big majority in the state assembly, has fielded its party chief Amit Shah and union minister Smriti Irani for the two seats it can easily win, the Congress has renominated Ahmed Patel, who is political secretary to Congress president Sonia Gandhi, for the third seat. The resignations jeopardise his election.
All the lawmakers who have resigned are seen as close to Mr Vaghela, who exited the Congress after weeks of acrimony over the party's decision not to project him for chief minister in assembly elections due later this year. For now, Mr Vaghela, who had quit the BJP in the late nineties, insists he wasn't returning to the BJP.
His close relative Balwantsinh Rajput, who was the Congress' Chief Whip in the assembly before he dumped the Congress on Thursday, is the BJP's candidate challenging Ahmed Patel for the third seat.
Sources said some more MLAs loyal to Mr Vaghela could resign, while others could vote against the Congress candidate in the vice presidential polls next week as happened in the presidential election, when 11 of them voted for Ram Nath Kovind instead of the opposition's candidate Meira Kumar.
The BJP has said that the decision of senior leaders to quit the party shows that the Congress is a "sinking ship" with Sonia Gandhi and her son and deputy Rahul Gandhi unable to hold a crumbling organisation together.
"The entire allegations of the Congress that the BJP is doing horse-trading in Gujarat is not only false and laughable but shows its utter desperation," Union Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad told news agency PTI.
"A senior leader like Shankersinh Vaghela, former chief minister and the leader of opposition, has left the Congress. Three-time MLA and its chief whip Balwantsinh Rajput has left it too. Eminent doctor and its whip Tejashreeben Patel has left it. Does the Congress want to suggest that it has given important positions to such leaders who could be purchased?" Mr Prasad said.