On the occasion of his 77th birthday, former Gujarat chief minister Shankersinh Vaghela is scheduled to hold a major political show in the state at 2 pm. According to reports, after his last attempt to get something favourable (Vaghela wanted to be the chief ministerial candidate) from the Congress failed on Thursday, he may try and split the Congress unit, The Times of India reported.
His revolt has already sent tremors in the main Opposition party, who has cautioned its workers not to attend the rally called by Vaghela on Friday, The Indian Express reported. Vaghela responded by saying, "Whoever wants to come can come and whoever does not, should not. A party has the right to stop its workers and workers have the right to decide what they want to do. They are not bonded labourers," ANI reported.
Meanwhile, if he quits the Congress and some of the MLAs close to him follow suit, it may spell a major boon for the BJP ahead of the crucial state Assembly elections. The rift in the Congress will be a political gain for the BJP, which is hoping to retain Prime Minister Narendra Modi's state Gujarat in the elections scheduled for later this year.
Vaghela was earlier a member of the BJP and had become the chief minister of Gujarat by staging a coup against the party in 1996 with the help of the Congress. He set up his own party Rashtriya Janata Party (RJP) and later merged it with the Congress.
He has been asserting with the Congress leadership to hand over the reins of the Assembly election to him and make him the chief ministerial candidate, NDTV reported. About 36 of the 57 Congress legislators had backed him in staking claim to the chief ministerial post.
For the first time, Congress on Thursday evening issued a warning to Vaghela not to play politics under the guise of his birthday celebrations. He was also told that his public utterances would not be tolerated by the party any further.
After Vaghela announced his birthday celebrations, senior Congress leader Siddharth Patel and national spokesperson Shaktisinh Gohil met him at his residence to placate him as well as to convey him not to hold public events and embarrass the party. Vaghela is believed to have told them to convince the Congress leadership to make him the face of the party.
Congress has always been wary of Vaghela because of his unpredictable loyalty. Livemint quoted a senior Congress leader as saying, "Given that he has a number of friends in both RSS and BJP he could either join them back or use this as a pressure tactic to demand a larger role for himself." Some of the Congress members who oppose him argue that he is not a born Congressman and they have ensured that he does not get a free hand in the elections, according to Catch News. Vaghela had reportedly asked for autonomy to run the Congress campaign for the upcoming Gujarat elections.
Meanwhile, Vaghela has been very vocal about his displeasure with the party. He said on 24 June that there had been no planning for the elections and he had objections to the ad-hocism going on, taking a dig at Congress Gujarat chief Bharatsinh Solanki. Vaghela has also said he had fought enough electoral battles and would now rather fight for the people of Gujarat, The Economic Times reported.
He has also criticised the party high command for ignoring his repeated suggestions on election preparations in the state, according to The Hindu. Vaghela has also unfollowed Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi and some other party leaders on Twitter.
His statement about Solanki raises speculations of BJP's involvement in the ensuing drama. He met with BJP president Amit Shah in March and shared photos of the meeting saying it had "no relevance to any political equations."
Although he has publicly denied joining the BJP, Navbharat Times reported that BJP chief Amit Shah has been trying to create a rift in the Congress party through Vaghela. The report states that the cross-voting in the Presidential election happened on the behest of Shah. At least eight MLAs of the Opposition Congress appeared to have voted for NDA's Ram Nath Kovind instead of Opposition candidate Meira Kumar in the Thursday election.
If the Navbharat Times report is to be believed, Shah has penned down an elaborate plan to take down the Congress in Gujarat. A part of the plan is to have Vaghela snap ties from Congress without joining the BJP and ask for Solanki's removal
However, Vaghela's decision is not yet known. While there are reports that he is all set to split the Congress, ABP reported that he may just announce his retirement from politics and his supporting MLAs may quit in such a scenario. Meanwhile The Telegraph reported that Vaghela met NCP leader Praful Patel and may join a third front that JD(U) and NCP are trying to form in Gujarat. MLAs of the Congress, NCP and JD(U) have also been invited for the Friday meet.
Updated Date: Jul 21, 2017 14:19:38 IST