Vaghela, the ‘Pawar’ of BJP in Gujarat

Virendra Pandit Gandhinagar | Updated on January 09, 2018 Published on August 17, 2017


Just as the NCP stems the Shiv Sena, ‘Bapu’ may be the BJP’s weapon against Congress

Late on Wednesday, Shankersinh ‘Bapu’ Vaghela, flanked by Gujarat Chief Minister Vijay Rupani, Deputy CM Nitin Patel and other BJP ministers, submitted his resignation as an MLA.

With this ‘home-coming’ of Vaghela, the BJP may be heaving a sigh of relief. With an eye on 150 of 182 seats in the Assembly elections due later this year, the ruling party is likely to use Bapu somewhat the way it is using Bhau (Sharad Pawar) in Maharashtra — keeping in check those it must politically ally with.

Just the way the BJP is apparently using the NCP as a hedge against the Shiv Sena, its rebellious partner, it may use Vaghela to prevent anti-BJP votes in Gujarat from migrating to the Congress.

Ironically, the recent Rajya Sabha elections, which almost vertically split the Congress but saw party leader Ahmed Patel reelected to the Upper House, has rejuvenated the highly-faction ridden party. And, Patel has set a 125-seat target for the Congress in the Assembly election.

Vaghela, who had announced his ‘liberation’ from the Congress after the Rajya Sabha polls, was among the rebels expelled by the Congress. He’d said he would not join any other party but remain active in politics. This may well fit into the BJP’s aims of a Congress-free India.

Bapu is, however, unlikely to relocate into the BJP’s Margdarshak Mandal, where party elders are typically sent. The BJP is unlikely to accommodate him even in a gubernatorial position or elsewhere, although his son Mahendrasinh may well join the party and rise in the ranks sooner than later, party sources say.

Over the past three years, Gujarat BJP has been rocked by political landslides — the Patidar agitation, Dalit issues, etc. That its support base is eroding in the Prime Minister’s State has been a cause for concern for the party.

Vaghela may well stem any anti-incumbency tide. Indeed, on July 21, he hinted as much when he said he would like to work for the welfare of people, along with “the groups raising legitimate demands in the State”. It is yet to be seen how new leaders like Hardik Patel, Alphesh Thakore and Jignesh Mawani respond to the offer.

In 1999, Sharad Pawar had formed the NCP as a splinter group from the Congress on the grounds that Sonia Gandhi is a “foreigner”. Subsequently, however, the NCP became part of the Sonia-led UPA, with Sharad Pawar and his deputy Praful Patel being senior ministers.

Vaghela had rebelled against the BJP in 1996 to form his Rashtriya Janata Party (RJP). Later on, he ran a Congress-supported government in Gujarat, merged his fledgling party with the Congress, and became a Union Minister in the UPA-I government. There have been speculations since 2003 about Vaghela joining the NCP, given his cosy relationship with Pawar and Patel.

At present, the BJP virtually uses the NCP to pre-empt any move by the Shiv Sena to expand its popularity in Maharashtra. Vaghela is likely to play a similar role in Gujarat against the Congress.

Apparently, the Indian democracy now has room for such ‘bridge’ parties too.

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Published on August 17, 2017
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