Gujarat turmoil: Congress rocked as Kunwarji Bavalia joins BJP

Virendra Pandit | | Updated on: Jul 03, 2018

BJP sources say the ruling party has been working on ‘Operation Bavalia’ in last few days

A week before party President Rahul Gandhi’s next visit, Gujarat Congress was, on Tuesday, rocked when its veteran Koli leader Kunwarji Bavalia resigned from the Vidhan Sabha and the party, and joined the ruling BJP in the presence of Deputy Chief Minister, Nitin Patel, other ministers, and State BJP President Jitu Vaghani.

Bavalia will take oath as a Minister at Raj Bhavan at 4pm on Tuesday, Vaghani told the media. Chief Minister Vijay Rupani had returned from his six-day Israel visit late on Monday.

‘Operation Bavalia’

BJP sources said the ruling party had been working on an “Operation Bavalia” in the last few days to lure him, that led to his resignation. But even the ruling party is not free from seething dissidence. Only last week, its three MLAs in Vadodara — Madhu Shrivastava, Yogesh Patel and Ketan Inamdar — had accused the party leadership and government officials with “ignoring” them.

These crucial political developments and fast-changing kaleidoscopic scenario may be a precursor to the potential turmoil ahead in Gujarat at a time when political circles are agog with speculation that the Lok Sabha elections may be preponed to December 2018, to coincide with the Assembly elections in neighbouring Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh.

Bavalia, who is also the President of Akhil Bharatiya Koli Samaj, a major OBC component in the State, is likely to be fielded as a Lok Sabha candidate by the BJP.

Earlier, Bavalia drove down to Assembly Speaker Rajendra Trivedi’s residence to tender his resignation from the Assembly, and is said to have informed Rahul Gandhi via e-mail about this decision. But his entry into the BJP will not increase the ruling party’s tally from the existing 99 in the Assembly.

Reacting to Bavalia’s resignation, Pradesh Congress spokesman Jairajsinh Parmar accused the BJP of “cheating” party leaders with “allurements”. He regretted that Bavalia, who has been the Working President of Gujarat Congress twice, had quit the party at this crucial juncture.

Bavalia has been a five-time Congress MLA from Jasdan constituency in Rajkot district, since 1995, and also won the Rajkot Lok Sabha seat in 2009. His Koli community commands significant influence in the coastal Saurashtra region.

Addressing the media, Bavalia reposed confidence in the leadership of Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, and his government’s policies. He also applauded the performance of the BJP Government in Gujarat under the leadership of Chief Minister, Vijay Rupani, and Deputy CM Nitin Patel.

‘Infighting in the Congress party’

He blamed the infighting in the Congress party for his resignation as he felt he had been rendered dysfunctional in the party. “Rahul Gandhi cannot succeed in a party riddled with casteism, as he himself is playing caste politics.”

Congress sources said Gandhi is scheduled to visit Gujarat on July 11 and 15 to kickstart early campaign for the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. He will tour the Saurashtra region’s Rajkot, Junagarh and Bhavnagar districts where the Congress improved its performance six months ago.

He had extensively toured Gujarat during the Vidhan Sabha elections in 2017 and had managed to increase the tally from 54 Assembly seats in 2012 (reduced to 43 by the time of Assembly polls in December 2017) to 77. Besides, the Congress also claimed to have the support from two Independents and an NCP MLA.

Intra-party rivalries

But this improved performance seemed to have been frittered away quickly due to intense intra-party rivalries that led to Bavalia’s resignation. Only last week, senior Rajkot leader Indranil Rajyaguru, who had unsuccessfully contested the 2017 Assembly poll against Rupani, had resigned from the party. Ironically, both Rajyaguru and Bavalia were seen as political rivals from the same district.

There is also speculation that some more senior leaders and MLAs could quit their respective parties and join hands with the rivals.

Both Rajyaguru and Bavalia have accused the current party leadership in Gujarat Congress, led by GPCC chief Amit Chawda, with “ignoring” senior leaders and different communities.

In the last six months, former GPCC Presidents Bharatsinh Solanki, Arjun Modhwadia and Siddharth Patel have virtually ‘disappeared’ from the party’s scene. Even Paresh Dhanani, Leader of the Opposition, has been accused of “ignoring” the party legislators.

Published on July 03, 2018
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