The top brass of Madhya Pradesh Congress leaders, led by former Chief Minister Kamal Nath, on Wednesday met former party president Rahul Gandhi in Maharashtra’s Malegaon to discuss preparations for Mr. Gandhi’s ongoing Bharat Jodo Yatra, which enters the State later this week.
The meeting comes amid a buzz in the State’s political circles that the ruling BJP is planning to jolt the Congress by poaching a group of its MLAs before November 20 when the Yatra, which is proceeding from Kanniyakumari to Kashmir, enters the first Hindi heartland State through the border district of Burhanpur. The response to the Yatra in the southern States as well as in Maharashtra over its different legs so far has further fanned this speculation.
Some sources said the MLAs that the BJP is eyeing are among the 16 who cross-voted against the Opposition candidate Yashwant Sinha in the Presidential elections in July, and some others who fear they may be denied tickets in next year’s Assembly polls. Insiders assert that the rumours are not to be taken lightly and there “are strong chances” of these attempts coming to fruition, even with fewer MLAs.
Officially, both sides deny that any such crossing over coinciding with the Yatra will happen in Madhya Pradesh, but BJP leaders said that “anyone who wishes to join the party on his or her own accord” was welcome to join them.
“The Bharatiya Janata Party doesn’t make any such attempts or something similar is in the works. If someone feels that they can contribute more to the society or the country, they come and they are welcome to join,” says VD Sharma, BJP State President. He also denied that any Congress MLA was in touch with them.
The Congress blamed the BJP for spreading the rumours. “No ‘operation lotus’ will happen. This is being spread by the BJP’s PR (public relations) machinery. If they try to poach our MLAs, we will give a befitting reply,” Congress spokesperson K.K. Mishra said, when asked if the possibility of a group of MLAs jumping ship was also discussed during Wednesday’s meeting Mr. Gandhi.
Pressed further for a response on whether the party has held any internal meetings with the names doing the rounds, or given them specific roles during the Bharat Jodo Yatra to thwart any such attempts, Mr. Mishra said this was not needed.
“We do not need to do anything as no one is going anywhere. In fact, those who have gone are regretting their move and wish to come back,” he said. He was referring to the 22 MLAs loyal to Jyotiraditya Scindia, who switched sides to topple Mr. Nath’s government in 2020, and a few others who followed suit in the past couple of years. There are also rumours of the Congress attempting something similar by roping in dissidents from the BJP who fear losing tickets to contest next year’s polls.
Meanwhile, according to Congress sources, the entry dates may be revised. It is learnt that after Wednesday’s meeting, in which leaders such as former Chief Minister Digvijaya Singh, the Leader of the Opposition in the State Assembly Govind Singh, and Kantilal Bhuriya and Ajay Singh were present, it was decided that instead of November 20, the Yatra will enter Madhya Pradesh on November 23.
Upon entering Madhya Pradesh, the Yatra will take a break of three days as Mr. Gandhi will proceed to Gujarat to campaign for the Assembly elections coming up there. Interestingly, Independent MLA Surendra Singh ‘Shera’, who was with the Congress in the past, has been given charge of coordinating arrangements for the march in Burhanpur and Khandwa districts.