The Gujarat unit of Congress on Saturday moved several party legislators to resorts and bungalows amid fears of poaching by the Bharatiya Janata Party ahead of the June 19 Rajya Sabha elections in the state, PTI reported. This came days after three Gujarat Congress MLAs – Brijesh Merja, Akshay Patel and Jitu Chaudhary – resigned from the party.

The Bharatiya Janata Party now has 103 legislators in the 182-member Assembly, while the Congress has 65. The BJP has fielded Abhay Bhardwaj, Ramila Bara and Narhari Amin for the Rajya Sabha polls, while the Congress candidates are senior leaders Shaktisinh Gohil and Bharatsinh Solanki.

In view of the restrictions on large gatherings imposed to rein in the coronavirus pandemic, the Congress has divided its legislators into three groups and has confined them locally in resorts at Ambaji, Rajkot and Vadodara districts of the state, according to The Indian Express.

While MLAs from North Gujarat have been shifted to Wild Winds Resort near Ambaji in the Congress-ruled state of Rajasthan, MLAs from Saurashtra have been shifted to a resort near Rajkot, which is owned by former party legislator Indranil Rajyaguru. Meanwhile, all leaders in central Gujarat have been lodged at the Aries Riverside Farmhouse near Vadodara.

Unidentified party officials told the newspaper that as many as two more MLAs are said to be on their way out. While one of them is said to be an MLA from Central Gujarat, another is from Saurashtra.

Congress spokesperson Manish Doshi said the legislators might be made to stay in these accommodations until the day of the elections. “Many of them have arrived,” he told PTI. “Others will reach there soon.”

Since March, as many as eight Congress legislators have resigned from the party. At that time, the party had moved its MLAs to a resort in Jaipur, after five of them had resigned ahead of the March 26 elections to the Upper House. The polls were deferred due to the countrywide lockdown enforced to contain the coronavirus outbreak. MLAs Akshay Patel and Jitu Chaudhary resigned on June 3 ,while Brijesh Merja quit the party on June 5, jeopardising the party’s prospect of winning two seats.

Leader of Opposition Paresh Dhanani told The Indian Express that the Congress has decided to flock its legislators together in order to “save democracy”. “While Congress MLAs were standing among people for two months and fighting the coronavirus, the ruling BJP was busy doing todona [break up] operation,” he added. “An active Opposition is integral part of a democratic system [but] the BJP is bent on breaking the Opposition.”

Meanwhile, party legislator Vikram Madam said that leaders have accused the BJP of “blackmailing, threatening or using money to poach its MLAs”. “In each case, we can see how these people in power are either offering money or positions or blackmailing MLAs to make them resign,” he told PTI. “It is clear these [three] MLAs [who resigned] were bought over with crores of rupees.”