Bapu , The Fly In The Congress Ointment !


On July 21,Shankersinh Vaghela, leader of the Congress opposition in the Vidhan Sabha quit the party to park himself in ‘no-man’s land’ creating heartaches and headaches in the political landscape of Gujarat. Heartache for the Congress, headache for the BJP and neither one knows for sure, which way he will turn. Not even to this day.

“Vinash kale viprit buddhi(wisdom deserts when bad times are in the offing) he remarked at a convention’ organized to mark his 77th birthday, the venue where he announced his ‘quit Congress’ decision. The man was on the mark.

The departure of Vaghela marks a major setback for the Congress which was last elected to power in the state over three decades ago. If it was hoping to make a fight of it in the ensuing polls later this year, the efforts have suffered a body blow though the full impact of the loss is yet to unfold.

Congress chief spokesperson, Randeep Surjewala was at pains to point out that Vaghela  had walked out on his own and  not been ousted. What he could not say was that the feisty Gujarat politician was pushed to a point where he had no option but to walk out for his own political survival.

Vaghela had been upset with the Congress top brass over the rampant infighting within the state party set up and the indecisive nature of decision making at the national level. He was credited with the view that like it did in Punjab, the party should announce it’s chief ministerial nominee in advance as well as clear the list of legislators to avoid last mile hiccups. With the party top brass reluctant to do so and  state party chief Bharatsinh Solanki, himself an aspirant seeking to push Vaghela to the sidelines, Bapu as he is popularly known finally threw in the towel .

“This is the second time that I have become a victim of intra-party conspiracy. First it was the BJP now it is the Congress. I had told Soniaji when I went to meet her  that I would not break her faith. I may not remain with the party for long but I will not go anywhere. I am not joining the BJP”, he said. He had also told Rahul Gandhi that there was a conspiracy to get him expelled from the party.

He has made it clear that he would quit as legislator after the Rajya Sabha election slated for August 8. ”I am a free bird now”, he told this correspondent.
The decision of Vaghela to park himself in political ‘no-party’s land’ at the moment is causing greater discomfort to both the Congress and the BJP. Even as his convention was in progress the Congress core committee of the party was meeting in Ahmedabad, hanging on his every word, realizing the dangerous implications of him breaking away. Party leaders had days earlier started reaching out to their legislators in a bid to persuade them not to cast their lot with the wily, old political war horse.

It is well known that it is Ahmed Patel, political advisor to Congress president Mrs Sonia Gandhi who has been calling the shots in Gujarat affairs in Delhi. The last time the Congress won in Gujarat was 33 years ago, in 1985 when Madhavsinh Solanki set a record with Congress bagging 149 seats in a house of 182,with the Janata Party getting 14 and the BJP 11, followed by independents with 8 seats. In the period thereafter it has come to power only via the backdoor, through mergers and ‘acquisitions’ but never in a ballot battle. The only record that Modi could not break during his over 13 year rule as chief minister of Gujarat was the one set by Solanki. And Madhavsinh never accepted the supremacy of Ahmed Patel in the internal dynamics of the Congress though his son, Bharatsinh, the present Gujarat Congress chief, has.

Is it a mere coincidence that Patel’s helmsmanship in Delhi has neither seen the emergence of a single powerful leader in the Gujarat Congress nor has it once acquired power in the state on it’s own steam?. The last two Congress chief ministers, Chimanbhai Patel and Chhabildas Mehta were both inserts from the Janata Party while another ‘import’ of independent standing, Vaghela, has now left in disgust. Ironically, the last decade and a half has seen the meteoric rise of Narendra Modi who not only became the longest serving chief minister of Gujarat but has been singularly responsible for cutting the Congress to pygmy proportions nationwide besides sending it cart wheeling out of power at the centre and in state after state!

Though BJP leaders have been making cautious overtures towards one of their onetime veteran of RSS stock, they are aware that Vaghela is not inclined to join them for it would amount to paying obeisance to the present leadership. It would be blasphemous to even think that Vaghela would play second fiddle to Amit Shah, the man that he is.

Narendra Modi-and not Keshubhai Patel as is generally believed-was the main reason for his rebellion in 1995 when he had walked out with a large chunk of BJP legislators to Khajuraho. In the short lived compromise brokered by veteran Atal Bihari Vajpayee, the rebels returned to the party fold after Patel gave way to Suresh Mehta as chief minister, and state  secretary Narendra Modi was banished from the state. However the hounding of Vaghela supporters termed ‘Khajurias’(those who had gone away to khajuraho) by the loyalists nicknamed ‘Hajurias’ with covert support from Modi -Dr Pravin Togadia (VHP)combine, continued unabated leading to the falls of the Mehta government and the creation of a regional party by Vaghela which came to power with Congress support. Subsequently Vaghela wound up his regional party after it’ s defeat at the hustings and joined the Congress.

While the Congress has quite simply shot itself in the foot in an election year, what is of great concern to the saffron set up, is the damage potential of Vaghela to the BJP, now that he is  a free horse shorn of the Congress shackles.
However it is Vaghela’s supporters within the Congress which the BJP is keen to mop up since many of them are of old BJP stock. Vaghela’s announcement that they were free to chose where they want to go may have elicited an immediate BJP invitation but this is easier said than done. Vaghela still remains very much the man in charge of his supporters and his political maneouvring will play a decisive role in the next Vidhan Sabha elections in the state. 
He made this aptly clear when he stated at the convention ”Bapus  never retire, the people of Gujarat are my high command and they will decide what I should do next”. 

Ahmed Patel who is due for re-election to the Rajya Sabha from Gujarat on August 8 better watch out for if Bapu chooses to ‘move’ on the political chessboard, Patel may well find himself floored. The million rupee question is, will he?.

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