Celebrating his 77th birthday on Friday, senior Congress leader Shankersinh Vaghela quit the party without announcing his future plans. At a rally in Gandhinagar, Vaghela, the former chief minister and former Union minister, said he was unhappy with the way Congress has been for over a couple of months.
Addressing a cheering crowd of 5,000-odd people, Vaghela said he does not want to contest from a party which is already behaving like it has given up, even before the elections were announced. Though there have been no indications about where his political future is headed, one thing is clear — it will be a divided Congress party which will contest the forthcoming Assembly election in Gujarat.
Vaghela, a prominent RSS man, defected from the BJP two decades ago to form his own political party, which then merged with the Congress. It's still not clear what he intends to do in the future, though leaders close to him say that he is in talks with Praful Patel of NCP and leaders of JDU.
Vaghela's resignation comes as a massive jolt for the Congress, a party already battling infighting among its senior leaders. It will also need a complete strategy rethink ahead of the forthcoming Rajya Sabha election, scheduled for next month. And key to the party's Rajya Sabha plans will be the candidacy of Sonia Gandhi's confidante Ahmed Patel. At least 11 Congress legislators from Gujarat cross-voted in the presidential elections earlier this week, and Vaghela's exit could ensure an increase in infighting and anti-party activities.
Vaghela's exit from the party will definitely make things uncomfortable for Ahmed Patel as well. "This is exactly what the BJP is looking at; a weaker Ahmed Patel is advantage BJP in the Rajya Sabha, where the party is already claiming strength in numbers, while Vaghela's exit will further impact the Congress," said a senior Congress leader.
"Vaghela's exit weakens the party in north Gujarat. He alone could have been advantage Congress in at least a dozen seats in north Gujarat, where the BJP is in a sticky wicket because of the Patel agitation," said political analyst Vidyut Joshi.
He said that more than BJP, it is now Congress which has to fight another front. "Bapu, as he is popularly known among people, has ensured Congress workers are demotivated, while also spelling more hard work for the party, which now has to battle another front apart from the BJP," Joshi added.
Vaghela, who has already resigned from the post of Leader of Opposition in the Gujarat Assembly, will resign as an MLA on 9 August, a day after the Rajya Sabha elections.
Following strict instructions from Congress, none of the party MLAs barring his son Mahendrasinh Vaghela and senior leader Raghavji Patel, officially joined the former chief minister at Friday's rally. However, many legislators are rumoured to have extended their support to Vaghela, though they stayed away from his birthday gathering.
Trying to send out a strong message to his rivals and political opponents who are still left guessing where his intentions lie, Vaghela addressed the crowd and said that he was 77 not-out and will continue to serve the people of Gujarat despite not coming from a ruling class.
While it still remains to be seen what plan Vaghela has charted for his future, one thing is for sure — the Gujarat Congress, which has 55 legislators excluding him, will face an uphill battle in the months to come. It will have to rethink a strategy, not only to counter BJP but also those within the party.
Updated Date: Jul 21, 2017 21:16 PM