The Gujarat by- bolls for two of its Rajya Sabha seats started on Friday with one candidate each from the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and Congress in the fray.
External affairs minister S Jaishankar and OBC leader Juglaji Thakor are the candidates from BJP while Congress has nominated Chandrika Chudasama and Gaurav Pandya for the seats.
Voting for the two seats, which started at 9am, will continue till 4pm in Gandhinagar. The counting will be held at 5pm the same day.
The by-polls on the two seats from Gujarat are being conducted after the BJP’s sitting Rajya Sabha MPs Amit Shah and Smriti Irani resigned following their election to the Lok Sabha in May from Gandhinagar and Amethi, respectively.
The BJP – with 104 MLAs in the 182-member assembly – looks set to win both the seats in the by polls. The Congress has 71 MLAs. Out of the total 182 MLAs, 175 legislators are qualified to exercise their franchise this time.
Other MLAs eligible to cast their vote are two from the Bharatiya Tribal Party, one from the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) and an Independent candidate.
Since elections on the two seats will be held separately, a candidate needs to garner a simple 50% votes to win. Each candidate will need 88 votes to secure victory.
Three MLAs will not be able to cast their vote in the by-polls as they have been disqualified for various reasons in the recent past, election commission officials said. Four seats are lying vacant after their sitting MLAs resigned on getting elected to the Lok Sabha.
The Congress shifted 65 of its 71 state legislators to the resort in Banaskantha district on Wednesday night, amid apprehensions of cross-voting in the elections to two Rajya Sabha seats on Friday.
The cross-voting fear of the Congress assumes greater significance as ahead of the Lok Sabha election this year, five MLAs left the party and joined the BJP.
All the 71 Congress MLAs attended their legislative party meeting at the resort in on Thursday.
The Congress party had earlier said they would take their MLAs to Mount Abu, a hill station in neighbouring Rajasthan, the legislators were finally shifted to Balaram Palace Resort.
Leader of Opposition in the assembly Paresh Dhanani reached the resort on the Abu-Palanpur highway in Banaskantha district, around 170km from Ahmedabad, late on Wednesday.
Disgruntled MLAs Alpesh Thakor and Dhavalsinh Zala skipped the meeting and four other MLAs — Gyasuddin Shaikh, Imran Khedawala, Bhikhabhai Joshi and Vikram Madam — had taken permission from party leaders for remaining absent, said state Congress spokesperson Manish Doshi.
“We have shifted our MLAs as a precautionary measure and as a part of our strategy. We all know the BJP had indulged in unethical practices and misused the machinery in the 2017 Rajya Sabha elections,” Doshi said on Thursday, according to PTI.
The Congress had flown its MLAs to a resort in Karnataka’s Bengaluru to prevent their exodus to the BJP and cross-voting ahead of the Rajya Sabha elections in 2017, when veteran party leader Ahmed Patel was seeking re-election.
More than ten Congress MLAs had either resigned or cross-voted in the election that year and Patel managed to save his seat only by one vote.
“The BJP can go up to any extent to acquire power. That is why we had kept our MLAs at one place to hold a day-long workshop. They will return on Friday morning, when voting would take place (in Gandhinagar),” he said.
Doshi said the Congress Legislature Party (CLP) meeting was convened by Dhanani and Gujarat Congress president Amit Chavda, who is also an MLA.
“Both Pandya and Chudasama are also there and attended the meeting. A mock poll was also organised in the presence of both our candidates at the resort today (Thursday),” he added.
While cross-voting by any opposition MLA will not affect the election results, Congress insiders said that party leaders feel it’s a prestige issue.