Gujarat Congress appears apprehensive of poaching by the ruling BJP and has directed its legislators not to meet Chief Minister Vijay Rupani, Deputy CM Nitin Patel or other ministers, even for works of public interests in their Assembly constituencies, until completion of the Rajya Sabha by-elections, expected to be held in August.

This decision, dubbed as a “voluntary code of conduct”, was taken at a meeting of Congress Legislature Party (CLP) held in Ahmedabad on Sunday. Leader of the Opposition Paresh Dhanani, who had “offered” to resign after the party lost all 26 Lok Sabha seats recently, said the Congress would organise “send-offs” to those MLAs who joined the BJP.

With Union Ministers Amit Shah and Smriti Irani resigning their Rajya Sabha seats from Gujarat last week, the ruling BJP is likely to get External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar elected from the State.

In August 2017, Shah and Irani had been elected to the Rajya Sabha. But the interesting part of that poll was re-election of Congress leader Ahmed Patel, after a long-drawn-out sojourn in Bengaluru for its MLAs, and a high-voltage political drama in Gujarat. After nail-biting suspense, Patel had won by a solitary vote after multiple defections and cross-voting allegedly engineered by Shankarsinh Vaghela, who is currently National General Secretary of NCP.

The Gujarat Congress expects a repeat of August 2017 in August 2019 as well. Already, its Assembly strength has eroded to 71 in a House of 182 after six of its MLAs joined the BJP since the December 2017 Vidhan Sabha elections. Rebel Congress MLA Alpesh Thakore, who resigned from the party but not from the Assembly, had recently claimed that 17 more Congress MLAs were on the “verge” of wearing the saffron scarf.

Aiming to capture both the vacant RS seats, the BJP is believed to have set in motion plans prior to the Budget Session of Gujarat Assembly scheduled to start in June-end. As per the present strength of the respective parties in the Assembly, both the BJP and the Congress can win one seat each, causing the BJP to lose one seat when the party was pulling all stops to gain majority in the Upper House.

The BJP can win both the seats only if it can ensure cross-voting by at least 16 MLAs from the opposition ranks. A candidate needs at least 62 votes to be elected to the Rajya Sabha from Gujarat. The BJP’s own strength at present is 105 (including rebel Congress MLAs) plus four Independents. Thus it needs at least 15 more votes to retain both the Rajya Sabha seats.

According to sources, the BJP has assigned the task to some ex-Congress members, including Thakore, to win over the requisite number of sitting party MLAs to either join the ruling party or cross-vote for the BJP candidates.

OBC leader Alpesh Thakor, along with two other Thakor MLAs, had recently resigned from all Congress posts, except the Assembly membership. Allegedly, they are on their way to join the BJP any time now. The Congress had demanded that Speaker Rajendra Trivedi should disqualify the three Thakor MLAs for their “anti-party activities” during the Lok Sabha elections.

Alpesh Thakore had recently met Nitin Patel, sparking speculation about his joining the BJP. Another Congress turncoat Asha Patel, who was re-elected from Unjha on a BJP ticket claimed that more than 30 Congress MLAs were “very unhappy” with the leadership and would be ready to join the BJP “if invited.”