Gujarat Rajya Sabha polls: Congress is yet to hear the last of, from and by Shankersinh Vaghela

Gandhinagar: "Vinash kale viprit buddhi (Wisdom vanishes when doomsday approaches)." Few saw this 21 July birthday wail of maverick Congress septuagenarian Shankersinh Vaghela beyond the curse of a forlorn soldier when he called it quits.

It took exactly seven days for the Congress to realise what Vaghela, or fondly called Bapu, meant when three MLAs resigned to join the BJP. Before the party could comprehend, three more left. And like a three-act suspense play, they quit in instalments and not together, creating more suspense about how many more were in queue.

On D-day on Tuesday, Bapu and six other working legislators were still there ‘inside’, carefully plotting Operation Sabotage to see the back of the powerful Congress leader Ahmed Patel from the Rajya Sabha. It was Bapu’s Secret Seven who sent Patel abegging for every single vote and it was nothing short of poetic justice that Ahmed bhai managed to get the magic number with the disqualification of the votes of two of the Secret Seven.

File image of Shankersinh Vaghela. PTI

File image of Shankersinh Vaghela. PTI

The Congress had 57 legislators, out of which six left on 28 and 29 July, leaving 51. A panicked Congress took away 44 MLAs to Bengaluru, leaving seven others back home. They were the Secret Seven.

This may have been a bolt from the blue for Bapu that his revenge goal faltered on the wrong foot just at the climax. But the wily politician that he is, will the inimitable Bapu put at stake everything for revenge? Not quite. When he resigned on his 77th birthday, he declared to a cheering crowd of supporters, “I am not retiring, Bapus don’t retire. I am 77 Not Out.”

His demands were straight and simple: Make him the Congress party’s chief ministerial candidate for the December assembly elections. Let him decide all the 182 candidates; Remove state president Bharatsinh Solanki. Let him will decide the campaign strategy. He did not want too much attention at his state-level stature vis-à-vis the apologetic state of the other leaders in the Gujarat Congress.

Among the present leaders, not one has a state-level connect. Solanki could not protect his Lok Sabha seat in his fiefdom of Anand nurtured over the decades by his illustrious father Madhavsinh Solanki, former state president Siddharth Patel could not win from Dabhoi seat cultivated by his powerful father, the late Chimanbhai Patel, former state president Arjun Modhwadia lost his Porbander seat and former Leader of Opposition Shaktisinh Gohil could not win from his domain Bhavnagar. These four and Vaghela held the leadership in Gujarat.

Vaghela’s demands in their entirety were not acceptable to the party and nothing less was acceptable to the adamant Bapu. So he quit, but did not resign as a legislator and did not let six others, including his son, do so, hoping for a re-negotiation. “We were willing to talk to him, I even offered my Rajya Sabha seat to him to contest. But to say I will decide every candidate, everything!” Ahmed Patel told this writer. “Even now, our doors are open for talks after the Rajya Sabha elections,” Patel added, in the thick of the no-holds-barred poll battle.

Ahmed Patel has won but Bapu is also there. He is unlikely to form a new political outfit given that he had burnt his fingers once with his Rashtriya Janata Party (RJP), but Vaghela is likely to queer the pitch for the Congress with a very imminent “tie-up” with Sharad Pawar’s Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) wherein the party may contest the Gujarat elections under his leadership.
There is ample evidence. The last came on Tuesday's Rajya Sabha election itself when the two NCP MLAs in the state were part of his strategy group and voted against Ahmed Patel. Vaghela has had several meetings with Pawar and NCP leader in charge of Gujarat Praful Patel during the last six months.

Patel had declared a few months ago that the NCP plans to field 80 candidates in the Assembly polls and that the party was open to negotiations with the Congress provided it does not play the big daddy and dictate terms, “like last time.” The present two legislators, Jayant Patel ‘Bosky’ and Kandhal Jadeja, were part of a seat-sharing arrangement between the two parties.

Though Ahmed Patel publicly claimed to have been assured by Sharad Pawar that he had the support of two NCP MLAs in the Rajya Sabha elections, Kandhal Jadeja had told reporters they had instructions to vote for BJP candidates. Which is exactly what happened, in what was a clear snub by Pawar to Ahmed Patel.

In this scenario, a seat-sharing possibility between the Congress and the NCP seems remote but it is likely that Gujarat will witness Vaghela leading the NCP as its chief ministerial candidate. Bapu is not only not out, he is very much in.

Updated Date: Aug 10, 2017 07:37 AM

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