GANDHINAGAR: Ahead of the July 5 Rajya Sabha bypolls for two seats in Gujarat, the state Congress has decided to shift its MLAs to Mount Abu, a popular hill station in adjoining Rajasthan, said party leaders Wednesday.
The main opposition party said its MLAs will take part in a brainstorming session at Mount Abu to chalk out a strategy for the ongoing budget session of the Assembly and denied the move was linked to the bypolls.
Party sources said Congress legislators will leave for Mount Abu this evening and stay there till the early morning of July 5.
Voting for the bypolls, in which MLAs constitute the electoral college, is scheduled to start at 9 am Friday.
Congress chief whip in the Assembly, Ashvin Kotwal, claimed the decision to shift the MLAs to Mount Abu has nothing to do with the bypolls.
He denied suggestions that the move is prompted by fear of any "poaching" attempt by the ruling BJP ahead of the voting.
However, Congress MLA Dhavalsinh Zala claimed the party is reeling under the fear of cross-voting by some of its MLAs.
Zala is a staunch supporter of disgruntled Congress MLA Alpesh Thakor.
Both have openly criticised their party's move to shift MLAs out of Gujarat and declared they will not go to the hill station with other colleagues.
Notably, the Congress had shifted 44 of its MLAs to a resort in Bengaluru to thwart a possible "poaching" attempt by the BJP ahead of the 2017 Rajya Sabha polls.
According to Kotwal, all party MLAs have "unanimously" decided to hold a brainstorming session at Mount Abu to chalk out a strategy for the ongoing budget session of the Assembly.
"There is no question of any fear or pressure. Since there is no sitting of Assembly till Monday, all the MLAs have unanimously decided to utilise this mini vacation and hold a workshop at Mount Abu."
"We will brainstorm and exchange ideas to chalk our strategy for the upcoming debates in the Assembly on the budgetary allocations," Kotwal said.
Kotwal, however, admitted that one or two party MLAs may vote for BJP candidates during the bypolls.
"Both Zala and Thakor are still our MLAs. We have not suspended them yet. Barring one or two MLAs, all legislators are with us and will not engage in cross-voting," said Kotwal.
Both Zala and Thakor said they will not attend this 'shibir' (camp) organised by their party.
Thakor even refused to give a guarantee that he will vote for Congress candidates, claiming he has not received the whip issued by the party for the bypolls.
"I have not received party whip yet. I can only say that I will cast my vote on July 5. Only time will tell whom I have voted for."
"There are many Congress MLAs who are upset with the party and waiting for the right time (to jump ship). What was the need to move MLAs? A workshop can be organised in Gujarat too. I am not going with these MLAs," said Thakor.
According to Leader of Opposition in the Assembly, Paresh Dhanani, the party has organised a workshop on July 4 to make the new MLAs understand the process of voting in the Rajya Sabha polls.
"MLAs would stay together for one day ahead of the July 5 voting. This will be a workshop for the first-time MLAs who would exercise their franchise for the first time."
"There is no question of any fear (of poaching). We are confident that all our MLAs would vote for party candidates," said Dhanani.
The bypolls on the two seats from Gujarat were necessitated after sitting Rajya Sabha BJP MPs, Amit Shah and Smriti Irani, had resigned after their election to the Lok Sabha in May from Gandhinagar and Amethi, respectively.
While the BJP has fielded External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar and OBC leader Juglaji Thakor, the Congress has nominated Chandrika Chudasama and Gaurav Pandya.
Voting for the two seats will be held between 9 am and 4 pm on July 5.
The counting will be taken up at 5 pm the same day.
Given its strength in the 182-member Assembly, the BJP is set to win both the seats for which voting will be held separately as per the Election Commissions (EC) notification.
Out of the total 182 MLAs, 175 legislators are qualified to exercise their franchise this time.
The BJP's strength stands at 100, followed by 71 MLAs of the Congress.
Other MLAs eligible to cast their vote are two from the Bharatiya Tribal Party, one from the NCP and an Independent.
Since elections on the two seats will be held separately, a candidate needs to garner a simple 50 per cent votes to win.
In the present scenario, each candidate needs 88 votes to secure victory.
According to election officials, three MLAs will not be able to cast their vote in the bypolls as they were disqualified for various reasons in the recent past.
Also, four seats are lying vacant after their sitting MLAs resigned on getting elected to the Lok Sabha.