Vaghela quits Cong, but says he won’t join BJP

Virendra Pandit Rutam Vora Gandhinagar | Updated on January 11, 2018 Published on July 21, 2017

Shankersinh Vaghela being felicitated by his supporters on his 77th birthday, at Gandhinagar on Friday   -  Vijay Soneji

Gujarat leader says he intends to resignas the Leader of Opposition, MLA

Shankersinh Vaghela, perhaps the Congress tallest leader in poll-bound Gujarat, has quit the party on his 77th birthday, while denying that he was joining any other outfit.

Using cricket lingo to describe himself as “77 not out”, the charismatic leader said he would resign from the State Legislative Assembly on August 15. The Assembly’s term expires by December 2017.

Vaghela said he had already been sacked by the Congress 24 hours prior to his birthday bash, as the party was apprehensive of his proposed speech on Friday. The Congress’ Gujarat leadership has, however, denied booting him out.

“I believe in destiny. I’m a free bird now,” he said, as he accused the Congress of neglecting him. “ Vinashkale, viprit buddhi (wisdom is forfeited in adverse situations)”, in an apparent reference to the party’s fortunes in the Rajya Sabha polls that are due in August, and the Vidhan Sabha elections later this year.

“I free the Congress from myself,” said Vaghela, who also goes by the epithet “Lokneta” (people’s leader) and Bapu (father). His posters, sans those of other Congress leaders, party flags or symbols, had surfaced in many cities this week. “I have been consistently ignored. We must protect our self-respect.”

Has he retired, hasn’t he?

“But Ba might retire, Bapu will not,” he said cryptically, without elaborating who the “Ba” (elderly woman) was, leaving the present guessing his next move, despite his insistence on retirement.

About half-a-dozen Congress MLAs were present at the gala event, despite the party leadership warning legislators on Thursday evening to keep away. He also claimed that he had discouraged the party MLAs from coming.

Social media makeover

‘Bapu’ also had his Twitter profile changed on his birthday — replacing his status as “Leader of the Opposition” to “Former Chief Minister” — and reviving his Facebook page, proclaiming himself as the “next CM”.

Man of the masses

Addressing a large crowd of cheering supporters — a feat no other Congress leader could have achieved, given that the party has been out of power in the State since 1995 — Vaghela said he would soon despatch his resignation as Leader of Opposition to Congress President Sonia Gandhi.

What lies in store

Vaghela’s exit may have repercussions for the August 8 Rajya Sabha elections from the State. The term of Ahmed Patel, Sonia Gandhi’s Political Secretary, has ended, and he is likely to be renominated from his home State. Patel, with whom Vaghela shares strained ties, needs the votes of at least 47 MLAs to sail through. In the just-concluded Presidential election, 11 of the 57 Congress MLAs, known to be Vaghela supporters, cross-voted for NDA candidate Ram Nath Kovind, rather than UPA nominee Meira Kumar.

For the record, he denied any knowledge of cross-voting, and insisted that he had himself voted for Kumar.

On Friday, Vaghela even poked fun at the Congress: “Now what will you do when the Rajya Sabha elections take place?”

It is understood that Vaghela is banking on the support of these 11 dissident MLAs, in addition to the votes of two legislators of the NCP and one of the JD(U) to jeopardise Patel’s smooth sailing. He would, therefore, technically remain a Congress MLA.

Praise and flak

During his long speech, Vaghela recalled incidents from his political career, praised leaders from the Jana Sangh, the BJP and the Sangh Parivar, as well as the Congress. He also praised Ahmed Patel, whom he described as a “Sufi”. Curiously, he slammed both parties on different counts, claiming he was a “truly democratic” leader who viewed the people as his only “high command”.

“I have been a victim of conspiracies in both the BJP and the Congress. I switched sides only to protect the people’s interests.”

Vaghela said he was as disappointed about quitting the Congress as he was when he exited the BJP in 1996.

He claimed that the Congress was not allowing him to put up a fight against the BJP. “With polls round the corner, it seemed the Congress was working for the BJP’s victory with no poll plans in place,” Vaghela said.

Congress response

Congress spokesperson Shaktisinh Gohil said Vaghela had not been sacked as he claimed. “He is a very respected leader in the party and we need him. However, the party will not compromise on its principles. Individuals are not important in the party and we work as a team. These are the BJP’s tactics to split the Congress in Gujarat, but it will not succeed.”

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Published on July 21, 2017
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