In a major setback for the Congress ahead of the Rajya Sabha polls in Gujarat, two of its MLAs quit party, making it tough for the party to get the second seat in the Upper House.

Two MLAs Akshay Patel and Jitu Bhai Chaudhary from Kaprada constituencies resigned voluntarily from their posts and Gujarat Assembly Speaker Rajendra Trivedi accepted their resignations.

“Both the Congress MLAs came to me last evening with resignation letters. I verified them, identified their faces by asking them to remove their masks and then accepted their resignations. They are no longer members of the House,” Trivedi said.

The Congress has fielded two candidates — Shakti Singh Gohil and Bharat Singh Solanki. While Gohil will be getting the first preference vote and is sure to get elected for Rajya Sabha, the fate of Bharat Singh Solanki, whose father Madhav Singh Solanki had been the Chief Minister of the state, hangs in limbo.

Senior Congress leader Arjun Modwadia has accused the BJP of using money and intimidation to lure away MLAs. “Akshay Patel has been lured away as he has business interest in mining,” Modwadia told IANS.

The party had earlier nominated Rajeev Shukla but was opposed by the state unit and party fielded Bharat Singh Solanki, a former Union Minister.

The Congress needs 71 votes to win both the seats but now the number has reduced after fresh resignations while the BJP needs 106 votes for its three candidates and has the strength of 103 in the Assembly. So the BJP has fished into the Congress to gain the third seat, a party leader said.

Congress sources say it will now depend on Solanki’s management skill, a veteran who can turn the tide in his favour. Last time Ahmed Patel won with his management skills despite Congress MLAs resigning and had said he defeated Amit Shah in numbers game.

The BJP has fielded Rameela Ben Bara, Abhay Bhardwaj and Narhari Amin for three of the Rajya Sabha seats.

Earlier in March, five Congress MLAs had resigned just days after polls were announced and before the lockdown was enforced. These include Somabhai Patel, Praveen Maru, JV Kakadia, Mangal Gavit and Pradyuman Singh Jadeja.

The exodus started after the ruling BJP fielded the fifth candidate, Narhari Amin, who is a former Congressman and also a businessman.