On the eve of the voting for the Rajya Sabha bypolls for two seats in Gujarat, Congress MLAs attended their legislative party meeting at a resort in Banaskantha district Thursday, said party leaders.
As many as 65 Congress legislators were shifted to the resort Wednesday night to foil any 'poaching' attempt by the ruling BJP ahead of the voting Friday, they said.
Though the Congress leadership had earlier said they would take their MLAs to Mount Abu, a hill station in adjoining Rajasthan, these legislators were finally shifted to 'Balaram Palace Resort', Leader of Opposition in the Assembly, Paresh Dhanani said.
Dhanani reached the resort, located on the Abu- Palanpur highway in Banaskantha district, around 170km from Ahmedabad, late Wednesday night.
Of the 71 Congress MLAs, 65 were taken to the resort, the party leaders said.
However, the legislators left the resort for Gandhinagar on Friday morning as the polls are due to be held later in the day.
While disgruntled MLAs Alpesh Thakor and Dhavalsinh Zala skipped the meeting, four other MLAs had taken permission from party leaders for remaining absent, said state Congress spokesperson Manish Doshi.
Thakor and Zala had refused to get shifted to either Mount Abu or to the Banaskantha resort and had openly criticised the party for the move.
The four MLAs who were absent at the meeting are: Gyasuddin Shaikh, Imran Khedawala, Bhikhabhai Joshi and Vikram Madam.
"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.
"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 tomorrow morning, when voting would take place (in Gandhingar)," said Doshi.
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 and the counting will be take up at 5 pm the same day.
Giving details of activities at the resort, Doshi said the Congress Legislature Party (CLP) meeting was convened by Dhanani and Gujarat Congress president Amit Chavda, who is also an MLA.
He said both the Rajya Sabha candidates of the party are also at the resort.
"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," he added.
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.
Earlier Wednesday, Dhanani had told reporters that the party had 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. There will be a workshop for the 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," he had said.
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.
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.