In a blow to the Congress in Gujarat, three of its senior legislators resigned from the party and joined the BJP with the Chief Whip bagging a Rajya Sabha ticket that could threaten the chances of Congress President Sonia Gandhi’s political secretary Ahmed Patel in the biennial election.

Chief Whip Balwantsinh Rajput, MLA from Siddhpur who is rebel leader Shankersinh Vaghela’s relative, was named by the BJP for the third Rajya Sabha seat for which Patel has filed his nomination. BJP president Amit Shah and Union Minister Smriti Irani are the other two party candidates.

The other two MLAs are Tejashree Patel from Viramgam, and Vijapur legislator PI Patel.

The three submitted their resignations to Speaker Ramanlal Vora on Thursday afternoon and later headed for the BJP headquarters, Kamalam, to join the party.

Within minutes of joining the BJP, Balwantsinh Rajput was named the third Rajya Sabha candidate of the BJP.

Rajput was already rumoured to be planning to contest the Rajya Sabha election against official party nominee Ahmed Patel.

Balwantsinh Rajput’s daughter is married to Mahendrasinh, the son of rebel leader Shankersinh Vaghela. Mahendrasinh is an MLA.

All three MLAs are believed to be close to Vaghela, who quit as Leader of Opposition on his birthday on July 21 alleging that there was an intra-party conspiracy to oust him from the Congress.

Notwithstanding Vaghela’s claims that he would not damage Congress interests, he and his supporters may back Rajput which could harm the chances of Patel, who is seeking a fifth term in the Rajya Sabha.

A candidate needs 46 first preference votes and the Congress has 56 MLAs. Vaghela is said to command the support of 11 rebels. If all the rebels vote against Patel, then it will be a close contest in the August 8 election.

Tejashree Patel and P.I. Patel asserted that the Congress had failed to take a position on the demand of the Patidars (Patels) for reservation to the community in government jobs and educational institutions.

“I have resigned from the Congress with a very heavy heart. I have worked for the party for 25 long years,” Tejashree Patel, a firebrand woman leader and one of the most active legislators of the Congress in the state Assembly, bemoaned.

“From top to bottom, there is intra-party politicking in the Congress. The party never took a clear position on the aspirations of the Patidars,” she said. “I have joined Narendra Modi’s journey of development,” she added.

Similarly, PI Patel also said, “The Congress has done injustice to the Patels.”

Balwantsinh Rajput echoed Tejashree Patel and said, “Modi is Vikas Purush.”

Rajput and PI Patel are from the North Gujarat constituency of Vijapur. Vaghela hails from North Gujarat too.