Gujarat Congress veteran Mohansinh Rathwa joins BJP, a few more MLAs likely to follow suit

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The ruling party is likely to field the nine-term MLA’s son in the upcoming Assembly polls

The ruling party is likely to field the nine-term MLA’s son in the upcoming Assembly polls

Mohansinh Rathwa, prominent tribal leader, former Minister and Leader of the Opposition in Gujarat, on Tuesday, resigned from the Congress to join the BJP amid buzz that his son is likely to be fielded by the ruling party in the Assembly polls to be held next month.

Differences with the Congress regarding fielding his son from the Chhota Udepur Assembly seat, which is presently held by him, has apparently led to the veteran MLA’s abrupt resignation. Mr. Rathwa, a nine-term MLA of the party, has lost only once in Assembly polls in 2002.

Immediately after tendering his resignation, he joined the BJP in the evening, becoming the second tribal legislator from the State to make the switch to the ruling party in the last four months. Khedbrahma MLA Ashwin Kotwal had resigned and joined the saffron camp in July this year.

Since the 2017 Assembly polls, as many as 18 Congress legislators have defected to the BJP in Gujarat blurring the ideological distinctions of the ruling and opposition camp.

Sources close to Mr. Rathwa, a soft-spoken and mild-mannered tribal leader who served in most of the Congress regimes in the State since 1980, said the MLA was pushing for the candidature of his son Rajesh in the Congress. The switch to the ruling party was part of a “deal” under which the son would likely be fielded by the BJP, they added. 

Meanwhile, another senior legislator and a leading OBC face, Bhaga Barad– Talala MLA from Saurashtra region– is likely to follow suit and join the saffron camp on Wednesday in a blow to the Opposition party, which is banking on the OBCs, STs, SCs and minorities to take on the ruling party and the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) in the upcoming election in the State.

Mr. Barad is the brother of late Congress veteran Jashu Barad, a former Minister and parliamentarian who had defeated the then Union Minister Bhavna Chikhalia in the 2004 Parliamentary elections from the Junagadh Lok Sabha seat. Mr. Barad is likely contesting the Assembly polls on a BJP ticket from Talala, a family borough in Somnath district. 

The inductions of the veteran Congress leaders just ahead of the elections suggest that the ruling party does want to take any chance particularly in OBC and tribal seats where its leaders are not strong enough to take on the senior opposition party legislators.

“On the one hand, the PM speaks against dynasty politics and nepotism while on the other, it fields children and relatives of the leaders imported from the opposition camp. This is hypocrisy of next level,” Gujarat Congress spokesman Dr. Manish Doshi said after Mr. Rathwa’s resignation on Tuesday.

The ruling party has often turned to the opposition camp to induct its leaders to strengthen its base ahead of the Parliament or Assembly polls in the State since 2002. So far, over 50 legislators and half a dozen parliamentarians have defected to the BJP from the opposition party in Gujarat in the last two decades.

In the outgoing State Cabinet, two top Ministers– Raghavji Patel, who holds the Agriculture and Animal Husbandry portfolio; and Jitu Chaudhary, Tribal Development Minister– joined the party after the 2017 Assembly polls.

In the Vijay Rupani government, several top Ministers like Kuvarji Bavalia, Jayesh Radadiya and Jawahar Chavda were imports from the Congress.

Recently, the ruling party had also inducted Himanshu Vyas, an AICC secretary, who lost two consecutive Assembly polls in Gujarat in 2012 and 2017. Former Rajya Sabha member Raju Parmar and former Home Minister Naresh Raval, both with hardly any social base or mass appeal were also brought in.

Large-scale defection from the Congress to the BJP in Gujarat has prompted Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal to dub the BJP and the Congress as two sides of a same coin in the State.

The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) in Gujarat is taking on the BJP and the opposition Congress to be a third player in the State where politics has remained nearly bipolar since 1995.

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