Fast vs fast in Gujarat: After Modi, it’s Vaghela
Congress resurrects Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi’s old foe Shankersinh Vaghela to regain footing in the state. The party expects assembly elections would be advanced by six months.
The battle of fasts will set the tone of Gujarat politics in the coming months. The unfolding developments are likely to impact national politics in interesting ways.
A day after Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi announced a three-day fast from Saturday for peace, harmony and development, his old foe and Congress leader Shankersinh Vaghela has declared a parallel fast at Sabaramati Ashram on the same day. Vaghela, a former chief minister, who had been marginalised in a faction-ridden state Congress, is the only leader in Gujarat who comes close to Modi in political stature.
While Modi’s fast is aimed at an image makeover with an eye on a bigger national role—he is likely to pitched as the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate for the 2014 general elections—Vaghela’s is aimed at countering the soaring political stock of the chief minister who is just going bigger in the absence of a political challenger.
It could well be the battle of gimmicks - only yesterday the Congress had denounced Modi’s move as a political gimmick. But the immediate concern for the the party is the possibility of early elections. It apprehends that Modi might advance elections by six months and ride back to power again taking advantage of a divided Congress and his own popularity.
The Congress will hit the campaign trail towards the end of this month. Vaghela told reporters on Sunday that Modi might seek elections six months ahead of schedule “to avoid further charges of corruption against him and erosion of his own credibility in public eye”.
The party has been in out of power in the state since 1995, with Modi at the helm for a major part of that period.
That the party was busy getting its house in order was evident when the warring factions came together on Sunday at a joint meeting. The leader of opposition Shaktisinh Gohil and state party president Arjun Modhwadia, leaders of other prominent Congress factions, backed Vaghela’s appointment as the head of the party’s campaign committee.
"There are no differences between us. We will work together till the assembly elections of 2012. We'll benefit from Bapu's (Vaghela’s) experience and bring back democracy in Gujarat," Gohil said.
The Congress leaders in the state maintain that Modi’s fast is designed to divert people’s attention from corruption. "We will bring the focus back on corruption in his administration through our fast," a Congress leader said, adding, "Looking at his track record, Modi has no right to speak of Sadbhavna. either."
The rivalry between Modi and Vaghela dates back to their BJP days. Vaghela left BJP and formed his own party called Rashtriya Janata Party in 1996 and subsequently joined the Congress.
However, he was sidelined in the party after losing in 2009 Lok Sabha elections.
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