On July 13, Bharatiya Tribal Party (BTP) issued a whip to its two MLAs asking them to not vote for BJP or Congress in case of a floor test. The party also declared its distance through a formal statement issued on social media, saying it would maintain distance from both the national parties in case of a floor test just as it had done in the case of recently held Rajya Sabha polls in Gujarat, where BTP’s two MLAs did not cast their votes and which cost Congress dearly.
“No support to Congress nor to BJP (sic),” the party founder and MLA Chhotubhai Vasava stated from his Twitter account on July 13.
On the following day, July 14, a BTP MLA from Rajasthan Rajkumar Roat put out a video claiming he was being held hostage by police. He claimed that police had stopped him from going to his constituency and his car keys had been snatched by the policemen. The video sparked outrage with many senior BJP leaders sharing the video, accusing Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot of pressurising the tribal MLA and demanding his immediate release.
But in a remarkable turn of events, on July 14, both the BTP MLAs, including Roat, met Gehlot and handed over a letter pledging their support to the chief minister. A photo of the two MLAs and senior BTP leaders with the CM was shared by Gehlot on his Twitter account on Saturday. In the following press conference, both the MLAs said attempts to topple a legitimate government were improper. Rout said Gehlot had personally assured him that the interests of tribals would be taken care of, which is why his party had decided to back him in case of floor test.
With buzz growing around a floor test on the floor of the Rajasthan assembly house soon, BTP’s support is likely to tilt scales in well in favour of the Congress. Soon after his meeting with BTP MLAs, Gehlot met governor Kalraj Mishra and submitted a list of MLAs who support him. While neither Sachin Pilot nor Ashok Gehlot have given the exact number of MLAs whose support they enjoy, it is understood that in the list that Gehlot has submitted to Rajasthan governor he has claimed support of well over 101 MLAs, the halfway mark in the 200-member assembly. Excluding the 19 MLAs in Pilot’s camp, some of who Gehlot claims want to return, Congress has 88 MLAs of its own, and support of 13 independents, and of one MLA each from CPI(M) and RJD and now two MLAs of Bhartiya Tribal Party (BTP). On the other hand, BJP has 72 MLAs and its political ally RLP has three.
When it comes to proving numbers, a lot depends on which way the independents and smaller parties vote on the day. In a crunch situation, every vote will matter and the smaller parties understand this. Which is why perhaps Chhotubhai Vasava’s son and party president Mahesh Vasava, in an interaction with media on Sunday, called himself a “kingmaker”. PTI quoted Vasava saying, “We have two MLAs in a House of 200, yet we are in the position of kingmakers… We have fought against the Congress and the BJP on tribal issues but if the government now assures full support on the issues raised by us, why shouldn’t we support it? After all it is fulfilling the agenda of tribal welfare and development.”