So­nia crony Ahmed Pa­tel’s fate hangs in the bal­ance

Three of the 44 Gu­jarat MLAs lodged in a re­sort near Ben­galuru have al­ready de­manded to re­turn home; win­ning RS seat gets tougher for the party

Sunday Express - - FRONT PAGE - EXPRESS NEWS SERVICE @ Ben­galuru

So­nia Gandhi’s right-hand man Ahmed Pa­tel needs 43 votes to win his Ra­jya Sabha elec­tion in Gu­jarat on Au­gust 8. Forty-four Congress MLAs have been herded into a re­sort named Ea­gle­ton near Ben­galuru, pro­tected from the all-out poach­ing of­fen­sive launched by the BJP in mul­ti­ple states. With six MLAs al­ready hav­ing flown its coop of 57 since the ouster of strong man Shankersinh Vaghela, the Congress is fight­ing rear­guard ac­tion to en­sure the re­elec­tion of Ahmed Pa­tel, whose loss, should it hap­pen, would be a se­vere blow to the grand old party’s stand­ing across the coun­try.

Kar­nataka, an old the­atre of an­tipoach­ing cam­paigns, is ruled by the Congress but the party’s wor­ries have in­creased since the Gu­jarat MLAs were flown in and penned in early Satur­day morn­ing. Some of the MLAs are fum­ing that they have been sep­a­rated from their mo­bile phones, which they os­ten­si­bly need to keep in touch with their con­stituents back home. Three MLAs from south Gu­jarat — Dharshib­hai Khan­pura from Kankrej, Ma­hesh Pa­tel from Palan- pur and Gov­ab­hai Rabari from Deesa — were in­dig­nant enough to de­mand to be flown back. Sources say they might be moved to Kodagu. “Th­ese con­stituen­cies were hit by flood­ing. Th­ese MLAs want to talk to of­fi­cials in their con­stituen­cies but the re­sort man­ager took away their phones,” a source in Ea­gle­ton said.

Re­ports say four se­nior Congress lead­ers were left in Gu­jarat to plan strat­egy to steer Ahmed Pa­tel home in the Au­gust 8 elec­tions. Two of them are guar­an­teed for the BJP can­di­dates Amit Shah and Smir­iti Irani. The third is cov­eted by So­nia aide Ahmed Pa­tel, but the BJP has fielded a re­cent Congress de­fec­tor as a chal­lenger. Given that 11 MLAs crossvoted for the NDA pres­i­den­tial can­di­date Ram Nath Kovind, and Shankarsinh Vaghela and his son Ma­hen­dras­inh Vaghela were ousted and six MLAs have re­signed or de­fected, Ahmed Pa­tel’s anx­i­eties are at an all-time high. Sources said as En­ergy Min­is­ter D K Shivaku­mar is abroad, his brother and Ben­galuru Ru­ral MP D K Suresh, Congress MLC C M Lin­gappa, and party leader Saleem Ah­mad are han­dling op­er­a­tions at Ea­gle­ton.

THE Congress has herded 44 of its MLAs from Gu­jarat to Ben­galuru ahead of the Au­gust 8 Ra­jya Sabha elec­tions, in or­der to avoid poach­ing by the BJP. But its wor­ries have not ended. There’s al­ready a re­bel­lion brew­ing in Ea­gle­ton re­sort, where the MLAs are housed after they ar­rived in Ben­galuru from Ahmed­abad in the wee hours of Satur­day. The leg­is­la­tors are fum­ing at their mo­bile phones be­ing con­fis­cated by the re­sort man­ager. They even had a ver­bal ex­change over the is­sue.

The MLAs are an­gry at not be­ing able to keep in touch with their con­stituen­cies at a time when their home state, es­pe­cially south Gu­jarat, is reel­ing un­der floods.

Three MLAs from South Gu­jarat, including Dharshib­hai Khan­pura from Kankrej, Ma­hesh Pa­tel from Palan­pur and Gov­ab­hai Rabari from Deesa con­stituency, ex­pressed their dis­plea­sure at not be­ing al­lowed to use their phones and de­manded to re­turn home. “Th­ese con­stituen­cies are most hit by flood­ing. MLAs from th­ese places wanted to speak to peo­ple and of­fi­cials in their con­stituency. But the re­sort man­ager Naresh Rawal who took away their phones re­fused to re­turn them to the MLAs. Irked by this, MLAs had a heated ar­gu­ment with him,” sources said.

The three MLAs who wanted to re­turn to Gu­jarat may be moved to Kodagu, said sources.

Mean­while, se­nior Congress lead­ers from Gu­jarat are ex­pected to fly down to meet the dis­grun­tled MLAs and take a call.

The MLAs were brought to Ben­galuru in the back­drop of six leg­is­la­tors quit­ting the party to join the BJP over the past two days. With Ahmed Pa­tel, po­lit­i­cal sec­re­tary to AICC pres­i­dent So­nia Gandhi, set to con­test the elec­tion to a Ra­jya Sabha seat from Gu­jarat, the party high com­mand is de­ter­mined to en­sure his vic­tory.

The Congress had ear­lier suf­fered an em­bar­rass­ment with cross-vot­ing by a sec­tion of its leg­is­la­tors in Gu­jarat dur­ing the pres­i­den­tial elec­tions.

With re­cent de­fec­tions, the Congress’s strength in the 182-mem­ber Gu­jarat Assem­bly is down to 51. Elec­tions to three Ra­jya Sabha seats from Gu­jarat is sched­uled on Au­gust 8.

Sources in the party said En­ergy Min­is­ter D K Shivaku­mar is tasked with look­ing after the MLAs but as he is away to Sin­ga­pore on per­sonal work, his younger brother and Ben­galuru Ru­ral MP D K Suresh, Congress MLC C M Lin­gappa, and party leader Saleem Ah­mad who is also ad­di­tional spe­cial rep­re­sen­ta­tive in New Delhi from Kar­nataka, are tak­ing care of Gu­jarat MLAs at the re­sort in My­suru Road, 22 km away from Ben­galuru.

MLAs from places, worst hit by floods, wanted to speak to peo­ple and of­fi­cials in their con­stituency. But the re­sort man­ager who took away their phones re­fused to re­turn them. Irked by this, the MLAs had a heated ar­gu­ment with him Sources

EXPRESS

Congress MLAs from Gu­jarat at Ea­gle­ton Re­sort, near Ben­galuru, where about 44 Congress MLAs are lodged |

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