In the political crisis that has engulfed Rajasthan, Mayawati's Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) has opened a new front, posing another challenge to embattled Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot.
The BSP had on Sunday issued a whip to six MLAs, who had left the party to join the Congress last year, to vote against the ruling party in the state in case of a trust motion in the Assembly. It threatened them with disqualification if they violated the whip.
However, all the six MLAs say they remain "unaffected" by the whip issued by the BSP. Also, they allege the whip has been issued on the behest of BJP which they accuse of conspiring to topple the Gehlot government.
"The whip has been issued by the BSP but it has been done on the directions of BJP. The BSP was not concerned about us earlier. Even after we shifted to Congress, they barely tried to contact us. We figured out one year ago that BSP is supporting BJP, which is why we merged with Congress,” Wajib Ali, one of the six MLA's who switched from BSP to Congress, tells Outlook.
Ali, a first time MLA from Nagar Assembly constituency in Bharatpur district says that all the six MLAs are unaffected by the whip.
"We are unaffected by the whip. We will continue to extend our full support to Congress. Our merger was official and the Rajasthan Assembly Speaker has approved it. We don't see any reason for issuance of the whip, especially when we are no more a part of BSP,” says Ali, who had won the Assembly elections on a BSP ticket by a margin of over 25,000 votes.
The 36-year-old legislator accuses the BJP of trying to topple the Rajasthan government by bringing down the number of MLAs supporting the Congress.
“We demand the assembly session be convened. We will cast our vote in support of Congress in case a floor test," he says.
In September 2019, six BSP MLAs -- Sandeep Yadav, Wajib Ali, Deepchand Kheria, Rajendra Gudha, Lakhan Meena and Joginder Singh Awana -- had merged with Congress party.
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It was a repeat of 2008, when in a similar move, all six BSP MLAs in Rajasthan had merged into Congress and supported Gehlot’s government.
The 2019 merger gave a boost to Congress as the party’s numbers increased to 107 from 101 in the house of 200.
"The merger took place 10 months ago and this late response of BSP calling the merger illegal is astonishing. It is not a coincidence that the whip issued by BSP has come after BJP MLA Madan Dilawar filed a petition in the Rajasthan HC seeking to disqualify all six of us,” says Rajendra Singh Gudha, another MLA who switched to Congress.
On the application of the anti-defection law on these six MLAs , Gudha says, "Anti defection law is not applicable in our case because all six MLAs had merged with Congress party."
BJP MLA Dilawar had filed a petition in the Rajasthan High Court questioning the status of these six MLAs who merged in the 'Congress'. However, his petition was dismissed in the court on Monday.
On Sunday night, notices were issued to the six MLAs separately as well as collectively by the BSP, stating that since it is a national party, there cannot be any merger at the state level unless there is a merger of the BSP at the national level. If they violate the whip they will be disqualified, the party has said.
Earlier, BSP supremo Mayawati had approached the Election Commission to consider these six MLAs as BSP MLAs during the Rajya Sabha elections last month but the Election Commission had refused to intervene, saying it's the Speaker's domain.
Rajasthan chief minister Ashok Gehlot is trying to keep his party afloat after an open rebellion by his former deputy Sachin Pilot, which has engulfed the state into a political crisis.
The support of these six MLAs will be crucial as without the support of Pilot and 18 of his loyalist MLAs, the Congress has a very slim majority in the house, with the party having 88 legislators including these six former BSP MLAs.
In the house of 200 assembly seats, Gehlot recently claimed to have the support of 102 MLAs including the support of 10 independent MLAs, two MLAs from the Bharatiya Tribal Party and a CPI (M) legislator.