A year after its stunning victory in the Surat Municipal Corporation elections and becoming the principal Opposition wiping out the Congress, the Aam Aadmi Party is desperately trying to retain its councillors after five of them defected to the BJP last Friday.
While there were rumours that some others might also switch over to the BJP, what added grist to it was the absence of seven other corporators when a delegation of AAP councillors made a representation to suspend and disqualify those who had quit.
A group of AAP councillors on Wednesday called on Surat Deputy Municipal Commissioner NV Upadhyay to demand that the defectors be suspended and fresh elections be held in their respective municipal wards (constituencies) under the anti-defection laws governing urban local bodies in Gujarat.
The AAP won 27 seats in the 120-member Surat Municipal Corporation while BJP got the majority with 93 councillors. Legally, at least five more councillors need to quit to escape disqualification and be able to join any other party — in this case the BJP.
Minus five defectors, the AAP now has 22 members in the Surat Municipal Corporation. Even as the party struggles to ensure nobody else quits and get fresh elections ordered, the sudden disappearance of seven councillors has put the party in a spot.
However, the seven corporators told Vibes of India that they were out of town on pressing social engagements and had no intention of quitting.
The absentees included Swati Kayada, Kanu Gedia, Rachana Hirpara, Ghanshyam Makwana, Rajesh Moradia, Dr Kishore Ruparelia and Monali Hirpara.
Ruparelia told Vibes of India, “I was part of the delegation but the Municipal Commissioner was not present. Since I was getting late for a wedding function, I had to leave.”
And Kanu Gedia said, “There was a death in the family and I had to go out of Surat. The party was aware about this.” Similarly, Monali Hirpara claimed, “I was in Mehsana to attend a social function.”
Meanwhile, the AAP’s Surat unit has launched an “anti-traitor” campaign under which they visit all the municipal wards represented by the five councillors who defected to the BJP and create awareness through posters and banners.
The banners call them: “Prajaa na vishwas no vepar karnar gaddaro (These are traitors who traded people’s faith).”
Putting the defectors to embarrassment, the party leaders and workers even express their apology to the people for fielding “such traitors” as candidates. The party also circulated an audio clip of one of their corporators being “lured” by the BJP.
Leader of Opposition in the SMC, AAP’s Dharmesh Bhanderi told Vibes of India, “We have made a strong representation to the SMC authorities to disqualify the five defectors and hold fresh elections. If need be, we are ready to move the Gujarat High Court.”
When contacted, AAP’s Gujarat affairs in-charge Gulab Yadav, believed to be close to AAP chief Arvind Kejriwal, said, “Things are fine. Nobody is leaving now. The seven corporators were travelling outside Surat.”
He added, “Let me tell you, there is strong public anger against the five traitors, who have joined the BJP. The people will teach them a proper lesson.”