Six days before the by-election to the Jhabua assembly constituency in Madhya Pradesh, Narayan Tripathi - one of the two BJP MLAs who voted along with ruling Congress and allies on an amendment bill on July 24 - announced that he was still part of the saffron party. On September 18, the legislator from Beohari seat of Shahdol district Sharad Kol too had announced that he was still part of BJP.
"It was out of sheer confusion that we voted along with Congress and ally MLAs on the passage of the criminal law amendment bill in the Vidhan Sabha on July 24. Who says I have returned to the BJP? I have never left the BJP. I was always in the party and will continue to be its part in future also. Just wait and watch, we'll even change the government, which means we'll change the Congress government to bring BJP back to power soon in MP," Mr Tripathi told NDTV.
BJP chief Rakesh Singh said, "Now it's crystal clear that both Narayan Tripathi and Sharad Kol are with BJP. Narayan Tripathi will be campaigning for the party in the by-election bound Jhabua on Wednesday."
The Congress too denied that the two MLAs had joined them.
"Who says Narayan Tripathi and Sharad Kol had joined the Congress on July 24 or later? They had only voted along with Congress and allied MLAs over the passage of a bill in the Vidhan Sabha," state Congress' spokesperson Abhay Dube said.
The two leaders, he said, had supported the Congress on issues. "We hope they'll again back us on other issues, when the appropriate time comes," he added.
On July 24, the two BJP MLAs had voted along with 120 Congress and allied MLAs on the amendment bill in Vidhan Sabha, which got passed. After the vote, both Mr Tripathi and Mr Kol, accompanied by Chief Minister Kamal Nath, had announced their return to the Congress.
Narayan Tripathi, a four-time lawmaker from the Maihar seat in Satna, is a turncoat politician who was first elected to the assembly in 2003 as a Samajwadi Party candidate. A year later, Mr Tripathi, who by then became the state party chief, contested the Lok Sabha polls but lost miserably.
In the 2008 assembly polls, he lost as a Samajwadi candidate to the BJP but won in 2013 as a Congress candidate. In 2015, he switched to the BJP, which was then ruling the state, resigning from the assembly. In 2016, he won the Maihar seat again in by-elections and stayed in the BJP.
With both deserter MLAs announcing they are with BJP, the party's strength in the house remains at 108. If the party manages to retain Jhabua assembly seat, its numbers will be 109. The Congress has 114 members, which is two short of simple majority in the 230 member strong house.
A win in Jhabua by-poll will mean Congress is just one short of simple majority figure of 116 seats. The party presently enjoys support of 4 Independents, two BSP MLAs and one SP MLA.