- Gujarat Congress in crisis after MLAs quit ahead of Rajya Sabha polls
- Congress flies out 42 lawmakers to Bengaluru, complains against BJP
- Election Commission seeks report from Gujarat government
By evening, the Election Commission ordered Gujarat Chief Secretary to inquire into the charges and report back with his findings by Monday 5 pm. The commission also directed the state government "to ensure proper security to all the legislators and their family members".
The poll body's directives followed the Congress' allegation that the ruling party machinery had even used the police to round up its lawmakers and dragged them into vehicles.
"There is horse-trading happening in the state of the Prime Minister... There is nothing sadder than this for our country and democracy... that the ruling party is stealing legislators," Ghulam Nabi Azad, senior Congress leader and the Leader of the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha said after meeting the Election Commission.
The meeting came hours after the Congress herded its lawmakers to a recreational spot in Bengaluru last night where they have been placed under the watchful eyes of the Karnataka power minister DK Shivakumar's brother.
The Congress desperate appeal for the election body's intervention came after six of its lawmakers, all loyal to veteran politician Shankersinh Vaghela quit the party and there was speculation that a few more may be on their way. Three of them have joined the BJP.
Mr Vaghela, who was in the BJP in the nineties, had been unhappy that he wasn't going to be the Congress' chief ministerial candidate. His exit was widely expected to be a setback to the Congress in the assembly elections. The party hadn't anticipated its losses could begin much earlier.
The BJP has the clear numbers in the assembly to win two seats to the Rajya Sabha in the election. It has nominated BJP chief Amit Shah and Union Information and Broadcasting Minister Smriti Irani for these two.
The Congress eyed the third seat for Ahmed Patel, the powerful political adviser to Congress president who would earlier have had a comfortable win.
Not any longer. By quitting the assembly, the Vaghela loyalists have reduced the strength of the house, which means Ahmed Patel will need fewer votes to win. But this also holds true for the BJP and gives them a fighting chance to dislodge Mr Patel.
Challenging Mr Patel is a close relative of Mr Vaghela and the Congress's chief whip in the assembly, Balwantsinh Rajput. He was among the first ones to quit the Congress and immediately joined the BJP that nominated him as its candidate.
"A party which does not have enough MLAs to field a third candidate has stolen an MLA from the Congress and puts that individual as a candidate... Such a thing has never happened before," said Congress' Anand Sharma.
Gujarat Chief Minister Vijay Rupani brushed off the charges but not after taking pot-shots at the Congress. "You have taken them (lawmakers) to Bengaluru... taken away their mobiles. That means Congress doesn't trust them enough," he said. "Anyway what does it have to do with us... This is Congress internal affair".