The six Congress MLAs who had kept away from the Taj Aravali resort in Udaipur joined the rest of the ruling party’s legislators there on Sunday, two days after the party’s “deadline”.The Congress has sequestered its legislators at the resort ahead of the June 10 Rajya Sabha elections. The about-turn of the six, including a minister, came following a meeting with Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot late on Saturday. The MLAs were flown to Udaipur in a private aircraft. They were accompanied by Gehlot himself, and reached around 1 pm.
The end of this episode for the Congress came on a day the government’s chief whip and Cabinet Minister Mahesh Joshi wrote to the state Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) seeking an investigation into alleged attempts at horse-trading. The complaint is being seen by party insiders as a subtle warning to discourage Congress and supporting MLAs from cross-voting. Joshi had lodged FIRs with the Special Operations Group (SOG) in 2020, too, in connection with an alleged attempt to topple the Gehlot government through horse-trading.
In his complaint to the ACB chief, Joshi said, “As is well known, an environment of buying-selling of MLAs or voters, in a corrupt manner, is created in various states of the country, especially around political activities such as elections. On social media and through other means, there are apprehensions that money power may be in play during the Rajya Sabha elections (in Rajasthan). Luring or buying the MLAs or anyone in a corrupt manner, or influencing the elections in an inappropriate manner, comes under the category of crime as per the Constitution.”
He went on to write, “This includes the exchange of money. The one who gives money or takes money in a corrupt manner, both come under the category of cognisable offences. Since I am the government Chief Whip, it is my moral responsibility to request you through a written complaint, so that you can stop the possibilities of such corrupt and inappropriate attempts.”
Best of Express Premium
After filing the complaint, Joshi told reporters, “On various social media and channels, there is apprehension that the trick of horse-trading will be adopted during the Rajya Sabha elections in Rajasthan. And when it comes to corruption, Rajasthan has a policy of zero tolerance. Corruption of any kind is not tolerated in Rajasthan — you would have seen how the ACB has been continuously acting there’s corruption.”
He added, “Additionally, if there is a possibility of political corruption, then it is our responsibility to act against that possibility. Such political corruption weakens democracy in the country.”
Asked about Joshi’s complaint, Gehlot told reporters at Udaipur airport, “It has been given because of the manner in which an environment was created where large scale horse-trading will happen. When a big industrialist comes, then naturally you know why they have come. When the BJP does not have the numbers, what votes will it get? From where? Why? What is the reason that they will get votes? And when I’m saying again and again that all are united with us, and they supported us in crisis, how can anyone have (cross voting) hopes from them, be it the BJP or anyone? So don’t know what discussion happened between them and their high command and the local leaders, they know better. But we can say our kunba (clan) is united, we will win all three seats.”
As things stand at present, the Congress can send two candidates to the Rajya Sabha while the BJP can get one elected. But the ruling party has fielded three candidates and the BJP two. So, both the parties will depend on votes outside their organizations to win an additional Upper House seat from Rajasthan. The Congress, which has 108 MLAs, needs 15 more votes to win its third seat and claims to have the support of an additional 18 MLAs. The BJP has 71 MLAs in the House and needs the support of 11 legislators to win its second seat.
Three FIRs were registered in 2020 following Joshi’s complaint. One FIR did not name anyone while one named the then rebel Congress MLA from Sardarshahar, Bhanwar Lal Sharma, alleged middleman Sanjay Jain, and one Gajendra Singh. The Congress had claimed it was Jodhpur MP and Union Jal Shakti minister Gajendra Singh Shekhawat. The FIRs were filed under IPC sections 124A (sedition) and 120B (punishment for criminal conspiracy). The SOG later dropped the sedition charge from all three FIRs and transferred them to the ACB.
CM’s promises to ‘G-6’
Meanwhile, Nagar MLA Wajib Ali, one of the Congress legislators who was holding out, told The Indian Express on Sunday after arriving in Udaipur, “We had issues and we raised those ‘loudly’ issues with CM sahib. CM sahib has promised that those issues will be addressed. The negligence we had been facing for a long time from the bureaucracy and other ministers, those things will be taken care of.”
The six “negotiated” with the Congress ahead of the Upper House elections, claiming that they had been neglected. Minister of State for Sainik Kalyan, Rajendra Gudha, had claimed on Friday that some MLAs formerly with the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) had not been given the respect they deserve while Ali, the MLA from Bharatpur district who was also with the BSP earlier, said his grouse was about the bureaucracy.
Gudha was among the six BSP MLAs who joined the Congress in 2019, a year after the Assembly polls, leaving the Mayawati-led party with no representation in the state Assembly. Apart from Gudha and Ali, the other MLAs in the group, loosely termed as the “G6”, were Lakhan Singh (MLA from Karauli), Sandeep Kumar (MLA from Tijara, Alwar), Giriraj Singh (MLA from Bari, Dholpur), and Khiladi Lal Bairwa (MLA from Baseri, Dholpur).
On Friday, Gudha had lashed out at Gehlot, saying the CM talked a lot but it would be better if he sat down and “worried” instead. “Gehlot sahib bolte bahut hain, bolte toh hain he, ke ye kiya, media mein bolte hain. Kabhi baith ke chinta karte toh zyada theek hota (Gehlot sahib talks a lot, he does talk a lot, that he has done this, he says so in the media. But it would have been better had he sat down and worried),” the minister told reporters in Jaipur. Apart from the Sainik Kalyan (Independent Charge) portfolio, Gudha is also in charge of the departments of Home Guard and Civil Defense (Independent Charge), and Panchayati Raj and Rural Development.
Expressing his reservations, Ali said the same day, “Due to shortcomings of the bureaucracy, public welfare schemes aren’t implemented well. There were a lot of complaints regarding the Public Works Department and illegal mining and I myself wrote to the CM many times, but we don’t know what happened to them.”